"Heaven has no rage like love to hatred turned." – from the play "The Mourning Bride" (1697) by William Congreve.
Our new president campaigned on a promise of “Change we can believe in.”
But a funny thing happened on the way to change. It got sidetracked by the reality of politics and power in modern America.
The reality set in early, with the departure of campaign chief of staff, David Plouffe, a strong and persistent advocate of anti-Washington-establishment views and agendas. He was replaced in the president-elect’s inner circle by John Podesta, a poster child for entrenched Washington insiders.
The campaign that promised to be different, to usher in a new era, to be independent of the corrupting influence of lobbyists, political insiders and power brokers, has since election day worked diligently to infuse its new administration with people who exemplify those attributes and allegiances.
According to Politico.com, “thirty-one of the 47 people so far named to transition or staff posts have ties to the Clinton administration, including all but one of the members of his 12-person Transition Advisory Board and both of his White House staff choices.”
Josh Gotbaum, one of two leaders of the new administration’s Treasury department transition team, is operating partner for the New York hedge fund Blue Wolf Capital. In case you missed the details of the global financial collapse, unregulated hedge funds played a key role in extrapolating the implosion of the securitized debt markets into a worldwide economic contagion.
Mr. Gotbaum’s resume also features a stint as partner and managing director of New York investment bank Lazard Freres & Co., the Carter administration domestic policy staff, the Clinton Treasury Department, assistant secretary of defense for economic security, assistant secretary of Treasury for economic policy and as executive associate director and controller of the White House Office of Management and Budget. In short, Mr. Gotbaum, who hails from one of New York’s most politically connected and influential families, is the epitome of revolving-door, influence-for-hire politics as usual.
And if you think the other leader of the Treasury transition team will hold Mr. Gotbaum in check, don’t hold your breath. That man, Michael Warren, is chief operating officer and managing director of Stonebridge International, a global lobbying firm for multinational corporations and financial institutions. Stonebridge is a holding tank and sales bazaar for current and former politicians and power brokers such as Clinton National Security Adviser Sandy Berger, former Sen. Warren Rudman (R-N.H.), and U.S. Chamber of Commerce President Tom Donohue.
As you can see by the presence of Mr. Rudman and Mr. Donohue, the real power and influence in U.S. government is non-partisan. The money that runs things in Washington knows no master and is an equal opportunity corruptor.
In that sense, it is extremely important to recognize that Mr. Obama and his team are not exceptionally cynical and corrupt for immediately populating their new administration with the same old crew swapping the same old millions for the same old influence, access and power. They are merely typically cynical and corrupt, and are following the only practical path to governance possible within the current American political system.
It is but another example that once you move past the ideologue rhetoric, there is not a dime’s depth of difference between the two parties and their politicians. They all will say and do anything to achieve and retain power. And once they do, the only currency that matters is not truth, or integrity, or change—or, most laughably, what is best for the country—it is money.
However, that cold political reality will come as no solace to the millions of fervent believers who joined the political process to participate in a change-based insurgency, an insurgency that would install into power a new man, a new leader and a new team who would be different. Different from Bush, different from Clinton, different from any administration they could remember in their lifetime, an administration that would bring to Washington luggage filled not with I.O.U.s to the moneyed and the powerful, but instead filled with sharp, clear and clean change.
Sadly, that is not the case. And it never will be, never can be, as long as money rules the American political process. Until we elect politicians who are rewarded for running an efficient campaign that does the most possible with a fixed, limited, publicly-funded campaign budget rather than for profligately spending unlimited funds, we will never experience real change in leadership in the United States.
Just as every modern administration before it, the incoming administration has already been co-opted by the pervasive, corrupt system of politics- and power-as-usual. Just as every modern administration before it, the Obama transition team is rapidly filling the ranks of its new government with people who are deeply experienced at both influence-peddling and influence-purchasing. The new government will be just like the last government, another passing of the baton of non-governance and self-enrichment that exemplifies modern American administrations.
None of this mattered much when America was the richest, most powerful, post-war nation on earth. As long as the party rocked on, essentially no citizen of the United States cared who was nominally running things or how rich they got doing so. But, those good times are over. It is the morning after the party. The hangover has begun. As a country, as a people, as an electorate, we are left with nothing but a huge mess to clean up and a deeply entrenched ruling class who have demonstrated no ability to effectively govern, whichever mask they wore: blue or red.
The new administration inherits this mess, the remains of a 60 year post-war party of decadence and financial irresponsibility. Their geopolitical and domestic challenges will be many, but none will loom so large as when the masses they rallied to their cause come to the startling conclusion that regardless of the rhetoric, the new boss is indeed just like the old boss. When these millions, most of them young, snap to this realization, what can contain their anger?
The colloquial reference to this flip from love to hate is, “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned,” which is actually an inaccurately reproduced segment of the entire phrase. The full quote is, “Heaven has no rage like love to hatred turned / Nor hell a fury like a woman scorned.”
The rage and the fury are yet to come. But when it does, how will Mr. Obama and his crop of ruling class progeny contend with a revolution among the newly disaffected ranks of true believers?
But, by then, the members of the Obama administration will already be personally rich or assured of riches once they move from the government to the consultancies, lobbying firms, media and think tanks that greet them on the other side of the revolving door. What will they care if a new generation of political cynics is created? A generation of cynics who believe, en masse, that nothing will ever change, can ever change, as long as the same two parties keep trading the pillage of the public purse.
Indeed, what can ever change, will ever change, as long as we enable it and allow it to continue?
We could afford to abdicate government to the revolving-door ruling class while things were good.
Can we still afford to do so in this new reality?