Commentary Magazine


So Far, Not So Good

Paul Krugman hopes that President-elect Obama set out not just to make government “cool,” but clean.  (“Barack Be Good,” he implores of the next President.)  Krugman suggests lots of government inspectors and auditors to monitor the bzillions to be spent on the “stimulus” plan. Okay, I suppose. He warns against earmarks. Hmm, better check the list of junk projects going into the “stimulus” package. And then there’s the “F.D.R.-like bond” with the American people. This has Krugman worried:

And I have to say that Democrats are off to a bad start on that front. The attempted coronation of Caroline Kennedy as senator plays right into 40 years of conservative propaganda denouncing “liberal elites.” And surely I wasn’t the only person who winced at reports about the luxurious beach house the Obamas have rented, not because there’s anything wrong with the first family-elect having a nice vacation, but because symbolism matters, and these weren’t the images we should be seeing when millions of Americans are terrified about their finances.

Well, I think Krugman is missing a few of the bigger issues here, even beyond the physical impossibility of preventing graft and corruption with a trillion dollar program of “gotta do ‘em fast” projects. (And the Obamas, as far as I am concerned, can vacation any where they darn please.)

The real issue: creepy anti-democratic politics is breaking out all over. It’s not just the potential selection of the undeserving Caroline Kennedy, but Joe Biden’s gambit to “hold” his seat for his son. Then there is President-elect Obama’s silence on a special election to fill his old senate seat (and the resulting partial disenfranchisement of his former constituents).

And we’re not getting much clean and transparent government from either the Democratic Congress or the President-elect. We have the Democrats’ toleration of serial tax and ethics miscreant Charlie Rangel as the Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee. And we’ve also witnessed President-elect’s holier-than-thou fudging on his own involvement with Blagojevich. None of this is very “F.D.R-like-bond” enhancing.

Krugman is right that “the Obama team needs to be thinking now, when hopes are high, about how to accumulate and preserve enough political capital to see the job through.” But Krugman and, more importantly, the Obama team seem oblivious to the most striking examples of anti-good government behavior. Before there is any more dilution of political capital, it would be a good idea to junk the Chicago Way once and for all.