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Wednesday, August 26, 2009
Like everyone who essentially wishes Barack Obama well, and hopes that America regains at least some of its status as a useful member of the world community, I have been keeping a close watch on him.
I understand that he is beleaguered by unscrupulous enemies. George W. Bush was beleaguered by enemies, too, but they mostly maintained standards of common decency. That's the trouble with liberals - we always have that common-decency tape playing in our heads. We could make fun of Bush's diction and demand proof for the wild and - it later turned out - utterly inaccurate reasons he advanced for invading Iraq, but we never did say that he planned on creating "death panels."
Neither did Obama, but guess what - right-wing chat monsters are still saying it. Also, we never alleged that Obama was born in a place other than the United States, although Texas was, of course, its own nation for a while and, apparently, the governor of that state wants to secede again. Fine: more federal money for the rest of us. Plus: one less thing to worry about in presidential elections.
Also, if Texas as a sovereign nation declares war on us, we could invade it and crush it. Not that I would be in favor of that. I have three friends in Texas.
So I understand that fighting those dopey brush fires is a distraction for the president. And I admire the fact that he's taken on the whole health care issue first, even though it's bound to make him unpopular. Health care needs fixing. Here's a small fact I ran across the other day. Infant mortality rate in Japan: 3.2 per 1,000 births. Infant mortality in the United States: 7.8 per 1,000 births.
Not that I think Republicans want babies to die. I just think they want insurance companies to make large profits. Did I mention that Japan has a government-run health care system? Heck, in terms of infant mortality, we do even worse than Cuba. Of course, we have Pringles. Everything is a trade-off.
Nevertheless, I tend to worry whether Obama is up to the job. Moral leadership, you bet. Good ideas (mostly), I'm onboard. But I find him a bit too willing to compromise; a bit too unwilling to flex the muscles that his majority in both houses of Congress should have given him. Sometimes, a person has to fight the fights he believes in and, if he loses, then he fights again, and meanwhile he gets some props - and some increased loyalty - from the people who were with him when others were writing him off.
So it was with some trepidation that I read the following front-page article in the New York Times: "As President Obama tries to turn around a summer of setbacks, he finds himself still without most of his own team. Seven months into his presidency, fewer than half of his top appointees are in place advancing his agenda.
"Of more than 500 senior policymaking positions requiring Senate confirmation, just 43 percent have been filled - a reflection of a White House that grew more cautious after several nominations blew up last spring, a Senate that is intensively investigating nominees and a legislative agenda that has consumed both."
So the barn is burning, and I understand that the first priority is to stop the fire. But right behind that is to make sure that the house is running smoothly, that all the things that will need to happen whether or not the barn burns down - that is, whether or not health care reform passes or not - will be taken care of.
Forty-three percent is, according to my always-questionable math, something pretty close to 215 jobs out of 500. More from the Times:
"While career employees or holdovers fill many posts on a temporary basis, Mr. Obama does not have his own people enacting programs central to his mission. He is trying to fix the financial markets but does not have an assistant treasury secretary for financial markets. He is spending more money on transportation than anyone since Dwight D. Eisenhower but does not have his own inspector general watching how the dollars are used. He is fighting two wars but does not have an Army secretary.
"He sent Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton to Africa to talk about international development but does not have anyone running the Agency for International Development. He has invited major powers to a summit on nuclear nonproliferation but does not have an assistant secretary of state for nonproliferation."
You know, look, I could watch the money at the Department of Transportation until someone better comes along. I could hire four accountants who are currently without jobs, and we could go over the books. I mean, I've ridden in trains, planes and automobiles in the past year, and I've been on the BART monorail. I'd be willing to step down at any moment, and my expense account would be tiny, except for special coffee deliveries.
I know a lot of my readers have areas of expertise. Who wants to be secretary of the Army? Let's pitch in. It's like AmeriCorps, except the pay is better and there are interns.
I'm worried about Obama. He needs some elves. Would you like to be an elf for Obama?
What a fool believes, he sees. The wise man has firstname.lastname@example.org.