Obama: Only Four Days, Already Two Broken Promises


By: Warner Todd Huston

It has only taken four days into his transition period to discover what Barack Obama’s idea of “change” is. Sadly, we find out that the “change” he had in mind was that of changing his mind on campaign promises because it seems as though he is already stepping back from two of them. By his pick for Chief of Staff he has obviated the new bipartisan Washington he claimed he was to orchestrate and by hiring a lobbyist for head of the FCC as well as signaling that he is softening his resistance to other lobbyists he is stepping back from the idea that lobbyists will be on the outside looking in with his new administration.

Obama’s first broken promise is the fingering of old Clinton administration hack Rahm Emanuel as his Chief of Staff. This pick does not bode well for the claim that he is interested in a less rancorous administration because Emanuel is widely known as a pit bull for the left and is not new to Washington in any way. His intemperate language and hard-charging style is not the sort that one would expect for an exercise in bipartisanship. Neither is Emanuel’s close connection with the corrupt Chicago political machine or his long-time connection to the Clinton Administration.

Chicago Tribune reporter John Kass scoffed that the Emanuel pick was hardly the one for “transcending politics as we know it.” And Kass should know as he’s covered Emanuel since the beginning. Kass notes that Emanuel got elected to Congress by the corrupt practices of “Water Department boss, Donald Tomczak, now in federal prison in Duluth, Minn” and Mayor Richard Daley’s City Hall. Tomczak forced city employees to act as a campaign army to get Emanuel elected in 2002.

And, there isn’t anything centrist or moderate about Rahm Emanuel. His American Conservative Union rating is a low 13. And his rating by the liberal Americans for Democratic Action is an extremely high 96. If both the right and the left agree that Emanuel is extreme in his views, it has to be on target!

Of Emanuel, Kass said, “I agree. He’s an able political infighter, and if you were in a fight, you’d probably want Emanuel with you. He’s smart and ruthless, and he knows politics. Perhaps that’s why Obama chose him. But it’s not reform.”

If his abrasive style wasn’t bad enough, once Emanuel was picked, ABC reported that, as it was going bankrupt, the Chicago Democrat was on the Board of Directors of Freddie Mac — the failed federal mortgage agency that was at the center of the latest economic meltdown. Emanuel made out like a fat cat during his tenure there, too. According to the Chicago Sun-Times’ Lynn Sweet, Emanuel netted “$231,655 in director’s fees in 2001 and $31,060 in 2000.”

None of this speaks well to Obama’s claim that he wants a new tone Washington.

His second promise broken is the feeling he promulgated that lobbyists would not be welcome in his “new” Washington. Obama has not only already offered a position in his new administration to a lobbyist, but he has announced a softening of strict rules against more of them joining him. This is in contravention to the strong anti-lobbyist tack he seemed to take on the campaign trail.

Back in April of 2007, for instance, Obama made a show of giving back donations from some Washington lobbyists to illustrate his intolerance for them. At the time campaign spokesman Bill Burton said to The New York Times that it was a “symbol” of Obama’s disdain for lobbyists.

“As we’ve said and as this illustrates, this policy isn’t a perfect solution to the problem of money and politics and special interest sway in Washington,” Mr. Burton said. “But it is an important symbol of the kind of administration that Obama will have in the White House.”

In October of 2007, the Washington Post noted that Obama had “fulminated against ‘lobbyists’ and ‘insiders,’ and claimed that (he) will end ‘business as usual’ in Washington if elected president.”

But, now all of a sudden, lobbyists don’t sound like such bad fellows to Obama. Politico reported on November 5 that Barack Obama has stepped back from his claim that lobbyists would not have a place in his new administration.

Despite campaign trail promises that special interests wouldn’t be a part of his administration, President-elect Barack Obama’s has sent signals to the lobbyists that they can get jobs with him.

…the overall message to the lobbying community appears to run counter to the Democratic senator’s campaign promise to keep special interest advocates at arms length.

Apparently, lobbyists are getting the message and are lining up out the door to get plum spots in Obama’s administration.

“The rush is on,” he said. “There are thousands and thousands of people (lobbyists) who are desperate for these jobs.”

And then on November 6 we find that Obama has picked a lobbyist to become his new FCC head. DC insider Henry Rivera, a former Democratic FCC commissioner, and partner in the lobbyist law firm Wiley Rein, is being picked by Team Obama.

While not currently registered as an active lobbyist, he has been engaged as such as recent as 2001. His law firm is also heavily involved in efforts to lobby on telecom issues.

Rivera’s law firm is also the former home of Kevin Martin, the current FCC chairman, and is arguably one of the schmooziest lobbyist telecom legal firms in Washington. It employs several former FCC commissioners as well as a significant number of former FCC employees. Of course, Rivera and the other lawyers at Wiley Rein are not the only people at the FCC to leave government for high-paying lobbyist gigs–the practice is widespread.

Does any of this sound like a “new” Washington to you?

So far, after only four short days, the names have changed but the story remains the same.

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