We’re less than two weeks into the administration of President Barack Obama, and we are already seeing that it will, indeed, be an exceptional time in our history.
I don’t believe I’ve ever seen an administration make so many exceptions for its own rules and promises so quickly.
During the campaign, Obama constantly denounced the corrosive role lobbyists play in governance. He vowed that no lobbyists would have any place in his administration.
Unless, of course, he really, really needed them.
So far, he has chosen to waive the rule for former Raytheon lobbyist William Lynn, who is nominated to be Deputy Defense Secretary, and former Goldman Sachs lobbyist Mark Patterson, who is to be Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner’s Chief of Staff.
Obama also promised that his administration would be the most ethical in history. That apparently provoked pangs of conscience in two of his nominees, the aforementioned Mr. Geithner and Health and Human Services Secretary nominee Tom Daschle, who suddenly discovered they had hefty tax violations that needed to be paid up posthaste.
Mr. Daschle very nearly ran up against the lobbyist problem, too, but he dodged it because he isn’t a lobbyist, his wife is. And that also very nearly caused trouble when Mr. Daschle was the Democratic leader in the Senate, but the couple delicately cleaved to the letter of the law: Mrs. Daschle only lobbied the House.
President Obama also signed an executive order that banned the U.S. from torturing prisoners. But that order had numerous exceptions and loopholes and omissions, rendering it virtually meaningless — it only applies to prisoners taken during armed conflict, only the CIA has to close up its secret prisons, and the term “torture” is never defined.
During the campaign, Obama spoke about the need to conserve energy: “We can’t drive our SUVs and eat as much as we want and keep our homes on 72 degrees at all times … and then just expect that other countries are going to say OK.” But last week it was explained why Obama was working in the White House without his jacket on — the thermostat was cranked up a bit, well above 72 degrees.
In an odd way, this sort of thing is actually a good sign. It shows a level of maturity and pragmatism in the administration, traits that were sorely lacking in a campaign filled with lofty, empty rhetoric and idealistic, unrealistic promises.
The unanswered question is how those who fervently believed in these things — and invested all their hopes and dreams when they voted for Obama — will react to these “betrayals.”