Public wants change, not a Clinton revival

PUBLISHED : Monday, 17 November, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 17 November, 2008, 12:00am

Ever since the US election, advice has been showering down on US president-elect Barack Obama like snowflakes in a driving blizzard.

Pundits right and left, politicians of every stripe, members of think-tanks inside and outside Washington, and not a few private citizens, have been trying to instruct Mr Obama, who yesterday officially stepped down as senator, on everything from negotiating with a rising China to dealing with an enigmatic North Korea and resolving the seemingly intractable Arab-Israeli conflict.

Indeed, it might not be too much to say that America today has one president-elect and 300 million advisers. In particular, Mr Obama has been deluged with the names of people who might be appointed to senior positions in his administration. Therein runs a process riddled with irony.

Mr Obama ran a campaign on the theme of 'change'. That he rarely defined what he proposed to change is immaterial; 'change' was to be the byword of the Obama administration. Yet the lists of candidates for high office are filled with throwbacks to the era of Bill Clinton and of Washington's Democratic establishment.

Thus, Mr Obama's regime seems to be shaping up as the Clinton Restoration. In charge of the Obama transition is John Podesta, Mr Clinton's one-time chief of staff. The new White House chief of staff is Rahm Emmanuel, a staff aide to Mr Clinton. Overseeing the selection of a foreign policy team is Warren Christopher, Mr Clinton's first secretary of state. Doing the same on defence is former senator Sam Nunn, who chaired the Armed Services Committee during the Clinton days. Amid those jockeying for position is said to be Mr Clinton himself, possibly for ambassador to the United Nations and, of course, Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Mr Clinton's vice-president and later Democratic nominee for president, Al Gore, is being considered for secretary of the interior, where he would influence environmental policy. John Kerry, the Democratic nominee in 2004, is reported to be running hard to be secretary of state. Larry Summers, Mr Clinton's treasury secretary, may come back from Harvard.

Perhaps most ironic is the persistent rumour that Secretary of Defence Robert Gates, the widely respected Republican, will be asked to stay on, maybe even indefinitely.

Dick Morris, the acerbic former Clinton adviser, wrote: 'Obama based his innovative campaign on an emphatic and convincing commitment to change the culture of Washington and bring in new people, new ideas, and new ways of doing business. But now, Obama has definitely changed his tune.'

Mr Obama, a quiet plea: be true to your battle cry of 'change' and look across the nation for fresh faces. Appoint no one else who has served in Washington for the past 16 years.

In Chicago, where Mr Obama learned his politics, there is an old saying: 'Throw the rascals out.' He might sandpaper that to: 'Keep the rascals out.'

Richard Halloran is a former New York Times foreign correspondent in Asia and military correspondent in Washington