Has Barack Obama created a "team of rivals?" I wish he had. As my new newspaper column out today shows, Obama, far from creating a Lincoln-esque "Team of Rivals," has instead created a Team of Zombies. And unfortunately, that has some very serious policy consequences.
Obama's national security team includes not a single opponent of the Iraq War (see below for an interesting wrinkle in this -- zombies defending zombies).* It is chock full of Bush administration political appointees who are -- somehow -- being held over. Not surprisingly, we've just seen this team ask for a massive increase in defense spending.
Likewise, Obama's economic team is filled with the same deregulating, pro-bailout, pro-NAFTA pro-outsourcing hacks whose policies brought the economy to its knees. And that's not just at the top levels, as we see, it's all throughout the government's economic bureaucracy. And, of course, the new economic advisory board Obama announced today has just two representatives from organized labor, and is teeming with right-wing economists (Martin Feldstein of the Reagan administration); CEOs from corporate outsourcers (GE and Caterpillar) and Wall Street firms (UBS); and board members from bailed-out investment houses (Laura Tyson from Morgan Stanley).
I agree with Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-OR) who has said he thinks Obama is being ill-served by this team -- and I think he's being ill-served precisely because he hasn't put together a real team of rivals. He's put together a team of ideological zombies -- members of Permanent Washington whose careers somehow cannot be killed as they mindlessly lunge forward with the same kinds of policies and political theologies that the country resoundingly rejected during the election.
The silver lining, of course, is that the progressive movement, working in tandem with progressive members of Congress, has actually forced Obama to reject at least some of the ideological bent of his team of zombies. It will be this "Make Him Do It" Dynamic that will ultimately be the difference between substantive change and mere hopeful rhetoric, because that is what will pry Obama away from the zombies he's surrounded himself with.
* One news reporter in Washington emailed me to say this assertion in my column is wrong. His proof? U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice. Now, I appreciate Rice having spoken out about the war well after the invasion, and I don't think she was a full-on proponent of the war in that she tepidly raised some questions about its cost, but she certainly was not what an objective person would call an opponent of it either. This is the same Susan Rice who went on National Public Radio right after Colin Powell's decisive speech at the United Nations and said the speech was a grade "A" and that "he has proved that Iraq has these weapons and is hiding them, and I don't think many informed people doubted that" (the latter part of that declaration a full-fledged lie).
In fact, just weeks before that, she praised the Bush administration's march to war and explicitly endorsed the use of military action against Iraq on NPR:
RICE: It's clear that Iraq poses a major threat. It's clear that its weapons of mass destruction need to be dealt with forcefully, and that's the path we're on. And hopefully we'll bring as many countries with us as possible.
KEYES: Do you think this administration is handling this the wrong way?
Ms. RICE: I think up to now, they're handling it largely the right way. I think the question becomes whether we can keep the diplomatic balls in the air and not drop any, even as we move forward, as we must, on the military side.
The reporter's insistence that Susan Rice was a Iraq War opponent kind of reminds me of the pathologically dishonest revisionism that Time"s Joe Klein exhibited when, in 2007, he righteously claimed that he was always an opponent of the war. This, after he appearing on national television in 2003 saying, "War may well be the right decision at this point. In fact, I think it probably is."
I mean, I'm not surprised that the Beltway media would try to defend the Team of Zombies. Zombies are prone to defend zombies, after all. And there's a motive for the D.C. media. They got things so blatantly wrong on Iraq -- they so utterly abdicated their basic journalistic responsibilities -- that there seems to be an intense desire on the part of reporters and producers to try to revise the entire history of the lead-up to the invasion. And again, while I do appreciate Rice not being a full-on proponent of the war, it's straight-up crazy to look at her public comments in the lead-up to war and label her an Iraq War opponent.