Like Rats Leaving the Sinking Ship

28 Sep

It has been a bad two weeks for poor Tim Geithner, Secretary of the Treasury. No, the unemployment news has been no worse than normal. And the stock market has not tanked (nor rebounded). Instead, the problem is that he’s running out of work mates – economic team member #4, TARP chief Herb Allison, just announced he was bailing too.

Add Herb’s name to a list that includes Larry Summers, high profile (why?) economic advisor, budgetary wiz Peter Orzag of OMB and Christina Romer. A mere twenty months into Obama’s administration, the chief architects of the President’s #1 policy priority are lining up to leave, to spend more time with their families and pursue other opportunities.

Well, thank goodness! That must mean the job is done, then. That the United States has kicked high unemployment, avoided a double dip recession, is growing well, and things are on the up and up. Oh, wait, they aren’t? I can’t believe such dedicated public servants would ever quit early. Robert Gibbs says they have been working so hard and are burned out. Don’t you feel bad for them? Unemployment benefits currently last more than twice as long (99 weeks) as these officials have been on the job.

And with Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel due out soon to run for Mayor of Chicago, and Political Advisor David Axelrod announcing he is headed back to Chicago as well to start the campaign, what exactly is going on here?

Heaven forefend that I make a positive remark about the previous administration, but like the policies or not, officials saw the process through. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were Bush’s #1 priority, and Secretary Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, Condoleeza Rice, Colin Powell, and General Myers all stuck around for four to six years. Where is the stick-to-itiveness of this round of officials? They aren’t even lasting to the midterm elections.

I can see moving on if the goals of the administration have been accomplished, but we are far from there on the economic front. What achievement is so great that Larry Summers can call it a day?

The biggest win is arguably the TARP, which is a Bush program, not an Obama administration initiative (lest we forget the timeline). Many major banks did not go bankrupt, the credit markets exist, money is being lent, and the government is getting its money back (with a profit) – in this case, the absence of an apocalypse must count as success.

President Obama’s initiatives are more mixed. A round of financial regulation reforms have passed, but we won’t know the true impact for years. Just as Clinton was the beneficiary of the Regan tax cuts, and the Dodd/Clinton Fannie Mae loan rule relaxation mess didn’t yield its ugly underwater mortgage fruit until Bush/Obama, we won’t know whether Obama’s finance regulations will bring fiscal sanity, or CDO Swaps 2.0, until many years down the road.

A second Obama initiative, the whimpering stimulus package, is a more obvious failure. The 2010 federal budget deficit ($1.4 trillion), much of it stimulus to get the economy plugging along again, is roughly equal to $100,000 for each unemployed person in this country (14.9 million). What have we bought with our money? Not a “new” economy or a “green” economy. It has not bought us bridge technologies (new natural gas pipelines), or new technologies (next generation batteries, solar arrays, etc). It has purchased some token investment in car batteries, but far more has been spent on asphalt for those cars to drive upon. Obama’s stimulus legacy will be expanded blacktop that will need resurfacing in five years – I could not have set up a more poetic metaphor. Reports say Cash for Clunkers moved demand up but created no more, the housing rebates seem to have had much the same effect, unemployment is still too high and not falling. Are the Keynesians yet humbled?

The economic team is may be the one most visibly leaving, but they are not the most visibly dysfunctional. Bob Woodward’s new book confirms what we have suspected: significant dissention in the foreign policy ranks, widespread derision of national Security Advisor Jim Jones, battles over turf overtaking those over policy, and that VP Biden is a jerk.

What is the unifying factor? It turns out running a campaign is not the same as running a government. Success in one is not a recipe for success for the other. President Obama’s advisors are either quitting or infighting, and neither is good for the country. Where are the Dem’s best and brightest. Where was the deep bench of Democratic officials waiting out their eight years of Bush to return competence to the government? There was a time when functional experts (Michael O’Hanlon at the Brookings Institution being an excellent example) would have come out of the woodwork once there was a party shift of power. Instead, we got Change, and rather than bringing in the Democratic elites, Obama brought his Chicago political insiders. President Obama has from the start been separate from the Democratic Party as whole (watch him sell out Congress for his 2012 re-election). Because of the way he won the nomination, Obama’s public spats with the Clintons kept some of the best and brightest on the sidelines. With Richard Holbrooke as the one notable exception, Obama brought in a Chicago team that is burning out early or fighting too late. Valerie Jerrett’s nearly assured and imminent promotion is a perfect example – what are her qualifications, besides friendship with the President? It is okay for an administration to bring on its insulated team, but didn’t Bush get a lot of flak for moving Texas to the White House?

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29 Responses to “Like Rats Leaving the Sinking Ship”

  1. BobbyCat September 28, 2010 at 8:11 am #

    This piece is straight out of the Fox/republican playbook. It piles one cheap shot on top of another and fills the spaces with snark, like mortar fills bricks. Roger Ailes would be proud.

    I don’t have the time nor inclination to deconstruct each fallacy, but believe me, it would be easy. So I’m cut to the summary.

    The Obama administration has spent 2 years attempting to stabilize a sinking ship. A detached President Bush, a man with no apparent work ethic who disdained reading, somehow missed the imminent warning that American building would be attacked via airplanes. Bush’s decision to attack Iraq on patently false pretenses, and pay for it on credit while cutting taxes for his rich friends, (i.e. a failed guns and butter strategy) led the USA from a budget surplus to a staggering budget deficit. Bush’s belief that Federal regulations inhibited business gave Wall Street the green light to Ponzi scheme and sell bogus securities that virtually bankrupted the USA and the West. Then Obama walked into the Oval Office and discovered the mess he inherited. The Democrats then faces a solid wall of Republican just-say-no votes in Congress. The republican strategy- to simply watch the United States of America fail in many ways and to do nothing to save it, is the most damnable political ploy that I have witnessed in my life.. They want a return of the Bush policies and will do anything to gachieve it. . Did they sound their dire warnings when the Bush ship was sinking? No, but now they are quick to blame Obama for trying to clean up the mess.

    Obama’s biggest mistakes have been trying to bring the right to the table. He should have steam-rolled over them. In a word, Fuck ’em. Oh excuse me, two words.

    Oh, there is some turn-over in the cabinet, you say? Rats jumping ship? I could list the legitimate reasons why people are leaving, but I won’t bother. This isn’t some high school pissing contest, Brian. Sell those cheap shot lines to the Glen Beck/Fox audience – people who don’t know any better.

    My tip is this: When your party screws-up, bite the bullet and admit it. Don’t try to defend an indefensible position. That is to say, tell the truth. It might be painful at first, but it’s liberating.

  2. STEEL September 28, 2010 at 11:39 am #

    The country is not in a Bush depression and we are not starting any phony wars. I think that is quite a great accomplishment especially considering EVERYTHING Obama does is fought tooth and nail by the right wing and the entire Republican party. They even oppose their own programs when Obama proposes them.

    Interesting though, you are the first right winger that I have encountered who is willing to admit that there ever was a President Bush.

  3. Chris in EA September 28, 2010 at 12:51 pm #

    “The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were Bush’s #1 priority.”

    The war in Iraq was Bush’s #1 priority.
    I’m not sure where Afghanistan fell in the scheme of things.

  4. Mike In WNY September 28, 2010 at 12:57 pm #

    Bush is gone, whether he led us in the right direction, or the wrong direction, is a moot point. Obama is screwing up royally, that is what needs to be addressed.

  5. BobbyCat September 28, 2010 at 1:06 pm #

    A few hundred thousand Americans and Iraquis were killed and wounded in a war that we didn’t need to fight, to protect us from some bogus weapons that weren’t really there, and you say Bush’s war was “moot”? Moot, you say? Ask the families of the dead, and ask the wounded how “moot” it was. History is moot only for those who chose to ignore it. For the rest of us adults, its real enough.

  6. STEEL September 28, 2010 at 1:20 pm #

    The Bush disaster is not moot. We are all living with the consequences of right wing control under Bush. This whole right wing meme that all of Bush is not important and every problem is caused by Obama is ridiculous. That may play in teabag land but that does not make Bush moot.

  7. lulu September 28, 2010 at 1:27 pm #

    If elected republicans would serve their constituents by participating in the conversations necessary and expected of publicly elected officials, then there would be many more people available to help figure out all of our collective political messes and improve our country for all inhabitants.

  8. Mike In WNY September 28, 2010 at 1:54 pm #

    Steel, I never said Obama is the cause of all problems and I don’t use right-wing memes. I also didn’t say problems caused by Bush are moot, only the fact that he caused them is moot. The operative word being “he”.

  9. STEEL September 28, 2010 at 2:08 pm #


    Actually no you did focus on the ‘He’ : “Bush is gone, whether he led us in the right direction, or the wrong direction, is a moot point.”

    He did lead us in the wrong direction. We can’t not sweep away the Bush policy as unimportant because it is the same policy advocated by the right to this day. Pretending that destructive policy is moot is dangerous rhetoric.

  10. Ethan September 28, 2010 at 4:21 pm #

    Obama is certainly plenty fond of certain Bush policies!  Not that I am personally concerned with becoming a target of his extra-judicial assassination program, mind you, but still- let’s give credit where it’s due at least.  

    As to the larger point of this piece: utterly banal & trivial that people are leaving this administration, if the observation is meant to say something about *this* administration.  If your larger point is about the revolving door between politics, lobbying and business, well ok: that’s certainly interesting.  But not especially true of this administration above others we could discuss.

  11. Brian Castner September 28, 2010 at 4:46 pm #

    @ Everyone But Mike: It is certainly true that Bush did in fact exist (and is not merely a nightmare story Liberals tell their children), and I do appreciate lefty fantasy stories about Bush and 9/11, But none of that has anything to do with the fact that Obama’s economic team is bailing ship, less than two years in, with the job unfinished, which is, BTW, what this article was about. Any thoughts on that?

  12. Brian Castner September 28, 2010 at 4:49 pm #

    @ Ethan (because I missed your post as I was writing mine): that officials leave administrations is not news. That the top four of five officials, on the President’s #1 priority, leave so soon with so little done, is news.

  13. Ethan September 28, 2010 at 5:21 pm #

    @Brian- I don’t think it’s especially revealing, but you are welcome to interpret it as such.  They’re every last one of them leaving to go make more money in the private sector than they did/do in the public.  And this is news how?  They’re, wazzat… greedy?  No way!  I’m shocked!  I can’t believe Obama didn’t find a bunch of selfless plutocrats somewhere.

  14. STEEL September 28, 2010 at 5:26 pm #

    Anyway Can someone tell me how Obama’s administration has done a bad job?

  15. Brian Castner September 28, 2010 at 6:41 pm #

    @ Ethan: Well, I implied they were lazy, not greedy. But go with that, if you like. So, how could left-leaning Dem plutocrats be more greedy than Bush Republican plutcrats, who stayed in their jobs three times as long, before the big payout? Republicans are the greedy one’s right? In the end, I care less about their motivation than the fact that Obama is changing over his team so quick, and not at, like NASA, but in the #1 policy priority. That’s the key.

    @ STEEL: Sure – the stimulus has raised the debt but did not stimulate the economy. The stimulus projects were uninspired or worse – how are you not furious he dumped 50X more in asphalt than railways? After dropping $100K per unemployed person this year, alone, unemployment is stuck at nearly 10%, when the $900B stimulus was supposed to keep it below 9. And now that their main policy has failed (as I indicated before, TARP was Bush’s deal, and I call the financial overhall an unknown for years), the lead architects are leaving, so soon? 20 months on the job. Way to stick it out and see it through!

  16. Pauldub September 28, 2010 at 7:14 pm #

    At least they aren’t under indictment.
    Perhaps they are being encouraged to pursue other career opportunities so that other, more qualified individuals can step in.
    From The Life of Brian- “Always look on the bright side of life”

  17. Gabe September 28, 2010 at 7:33 pm #

    Good riddance; those corporate hacks leaving the admin will hopefully get replaced by at least a few real progressives who will at least try to serve the people rather than the same old gang of oligarchs.

  18. BobbyCat September 28, 2010 at 7:33 pm #

    Administration officials come and go. So what? The larger question is, when will our economy rebound, or, when will the recession end? Will this be a double-dip recession? Are we sure this isn’t the tip of a long term depression? Blaming this one or that one for not being able to pull out of a deep recession is a petulant reaction of a dumbed-down society. This could be very bad for a long time, no matter who is in the White House. If you had Einstein and Jesus on your team, they couldn’t solve the nub of the problem: How can Americans compete with cheap foreign labor? That’s the intractable question. If American workers can manufacture a widget for a dollar but Asians can make the exact same widget for a nickel, how can we compete? Tinkering with trade deficits and leveling the playing field will only get you so far, but won’t solve the problem.

  19. STEEL September 28, 2010 at 9:17 pm #

    I don’t think anyone can claim the stimulous did not work.  What are you basing that statement on?  You can certainly say it did not meet the administration’s hoped for outcome but to say it did not work flies in the face of the fact that unemployment was increasing prior and decreaseing after.  I am not sure I would still be working without it.  The architecture world is in a depression currently.

    You are right that I do think the highway funding is a waste but that is the political reality. Our economy is currently built on the stupidity of sprawl and support for the stimulous would not have been there without pandering to it.  The fact still remains that job loss was in a free fall and not it is not.

  20. STEEL September 28, 2010 at 9:34 pm #

    That’s ‘NOW it is not’

    Anyway the teabaggers did not want the bailout (they actually think it was Obama’s bail out) and they think the financial rules under Bush were just hunky dory and that it is a tragedy that the laws have been changed.  They also did not want the stimulous because- well just becasue.  they say they are worried about the defecite but this law is the first they every took note of such issue  They did not like the auto bailout either.  I wonder if they would have been bothered by the fact that they would have otherwise had to buy their SUVs from damned foreigners.  Interesting enough, I overheard some UAW folks in Detroit this weekend of all places complaining about Obama calling him the N word and such.  I mean are these a-holes kidding? By the way it turns out that Obama’s auto investment is paying off some profits to the American tax payers. The tea people did not want to extend unemployment becasue it was not paid for (even though it was) and they do want to give money back to multi millionaires (even though it is not paid for) If the rich don’t get thier tax break no one does! Odd how easy it was for the Koch brothers to brainwash people into such stupidity.  They don’t want to give tax breakes and special loans to small business and they pretty much say f you to anyone unemployed without health insurance because you can get your cancer treatments in the emergency room and they are all just lazy anyway.

    So Yea I am sure glad we have Obama instead of Mr. and Mrs. Mavricky.  Oh that’s right McCain isn’t a mavrick anymore. All admins go through personel changes.  It is a tough life consuming job to work in the whitehouse.  Not many are willing to put up with it for a long period of time. Saying the ship is sinking and that is why they are leaving just is not backed up by any facts.

  21. Brian Castner September 28, 2010 at 9:41 pm #

    @ STEEL: I base my statement “the stimulus didn’t work” on the fact that it did not meet the admin’s unemployment, employment, GDP, or other growth goals. The only goal it met was the deficit goal. I have no idea what you are saying in your rant, so I’ll skip to the last paragraph – life in the WH does suck, which is why many officials change over after re-election, after 4 years. 4 years. Not 20 months. Officials only usually last that short a time when they are fired, not quit on their own accord. For quick reference, note in my article above the tenures of the officials in Bush’s admin in his #1 priority – 4-6 years each. Larry Summers, hero of the left, was going to come in and fix everything with his superior intellect and policy formulation ability. So, do you think everything is fixed, and his job is done?

  22. Brian Castner September 28, 2010 at 9:43 pm #

    @STEEL: Rereading what you wrote again, if I say the stimulus didn’t work, and you say “You can certainly say it did not meet the administration’s hoped for outcome”, then I think we’re saying the same thing . . . .it didn’t fucking work.

  23. Eric Saldanha September 28, 2010 at 10:59 pm #


    You may be the first writer I’ve seen who actually mourns the fact that Wolfowitz, Rumsfeld, Rice and the rest of the neo-con clown cavalcade that led us into the Iraq debacle (and the billions wasted in Iraq that you conveniently don’t mention) didn’t spend more time in office.

    BTW, I’m over the moon that Geithner, Summers and the pro-bank crowd is leaving and good riddance to Rahmbo, while we’re at it. I hope that some more progressive-minded folks are replacing them, but I’m not getting my hopes up. Whatever my problems with Obama’s current team, though, let nothing confuse the absolute fact that they inherited the biggest shitshow in U.S. history, thanks to a near-decade of Republican incompetence in every phase of governance.

  24. Ethan September 28, 2010 at 11:06 pm #

    Quoth you:

    Obama is changing over his team

    No, he’s not; they’re leaving- you even said so.  Nice try though, making him all active and implicit in the process by stealth rhetoric!  Obama: “Larry, I’m gonna have to ask you to go… I really value your service, but I know you have bills to pay, greens fees and so forth… that corner office on the 33rd floor waiting for you, all that.  Sigh.  I wish I could go with you, Larry.  I really do.”  Larry: “Obama, please stop crying on me here; do you know how much this tie cost?”

    Ahem; sorry.

    As well, I didn’t say they–Summers, et al.–were “more” greedy than, um, anyone up there.  Did you?

    Anyway, the Republicans who “stuck around” during the Bush admin, whom you so admire, were profiting enormously off the war they were first selling then waging, that’s why they “stuck around.”  All the while, if I may, they were also putting us in part in the economic situation that Obama’s corporate plutocrats have now willfully mismanaged, to their enormous benefit. (See; we do agree on something, but in fully different ways no question!).

    The rotating door between business and government in this country is indeed worthy of your derision, Brian.  But it’s a plague on both houses, and if you can’t see that, you are perhaps being willfully myopic.   What’s going on here has been going on in both Republican and Democratic administrations in earnest since Reagan. And it’s a huge cause of, though they’re often unaware, the Tea Party’s righteous fury.

  25. Brian Castner September 29, 2010 at 7:07 am #

    @ Eric: I don’t wish he had had more of Condi/Rumsfeld etc. I was simply noting their longevity, managing the President’s #1 policy priority. They stuck around a while, for good or ill (I was never such a huge fan either). Obama’s #1 policy priority team is bailing. Once again, for good or ill. I’m amazed how many Obama backers are happy to see them go, all the while defedning the policies they helped create.

    @Ethan: See, you do find it interesting! How about this: do we KNOW Summers is only leaving because he longs for Harvard Yard. Or was he discretely booted? Did the 4 of 5 economic advisors all simultaneously long for greener pastures, or did Rahm/Obama help them out and drop a few hints, because the economy sucks and the Dems are about to be pounded in Nov? I don’t know. Neither do you. Woodward will write a book about it. Neither of us will read it, as we will have forgotten we had this conversation.

  26. Ethan September 29, 2010 at 12:10 pm #

    No, the reason I won’t read Woodward’s book because I’m not interested in the political equivalent of Us magazine.  He is a court gossip-monger; I’d rather read a coloring book.

    I find the phenomenon more broadly interesting, yes- and horrible.  I don’t find this particular iteration of it especially noteworthy, though, no.  I don’t even agree with you that these people are/were working on his “Number One!!!’ policy priority; I don’t think there *is* a Number One- and I think with mid-terms a’comin, right now his Number One priority, if there is one, is to campaign for his party and for his administration.  Which hardly requires a Larry Summers.

    Did Rhambo ‘help’ them make the decision with an eye towards the coming election?  Perhaps.  It’s true, we’ll never know whether they’re lazy, greedy, or genuinely burnt-out.  So your thesis goes unsupported, too.

    But if you want to make this a work ethic story, let’s start with the top executives themselves  and compare vacation days for the Obama and Bush at the same juncture in their administrations.  I think you’ll find Bush demonstrated a strong work ethic- for clearing brush in Midland.  Obama, on the other seems to stick around the White House a bit more.  Facts drawn from here indicate that as of 23rd Aug, Obama has taken some 45 days off; at the same point Bush had 115.  

    “I’m amazed how many Obama backers are happy to see them go, all the while defedning the policies they helped create.”

    I didn’t see Eric defending them, I guess you meant “some other Obama backers,” ’cause you know I wasn’t, either.  

  27. STEEL September 29, 2010 at 3:27 pm #

    This is what Brian says:

    “the stimulus has raised the debt but did not stimulate the economy.”

    There are no facts in evidence to back up this statement. The fact is that jobs grew after the stimulus and shrank before the stimulus. It is not at all clear that the deficit would not have been bigger with no stimulus and an accompanying much weaker or depressed economy. So basically you are talking out your ass.

  28. Brian Castner September 29, 2010 at 5:35 pm #

    @ Ethan: You are not included among “some Obama backers” because you are not an Obama backer. Eric, Chris, and Gabe have all praised this departure, and Obama’s polices, though not together on this particular post. Whatevs – that was a throw away line, not the point.

    BTW, on your other point, the revolving door doesn’t bother me as much as you, because I don’t like the alternative. No, I should not write a regulatrion one day and then profit from it the next, but closing the door permanently means people go to government and stay there. Having worked for and in government, military and civilian, there are very few government workers I trust, and I don’t want to pay the taxes to pay the salaries required to get the absolute best and brightest. Better they be the best and brightest, and then come work for government for a bit, do their part, then go back. Kinda like elected politicians, under the citizen government format of yesteryear. My problem with Larry Summers is not the revolving door, but that his policies and ideas suck.

    @ STEEL: No one is able to create a perfect economic model for what would have happened without the stimulus. But I know this: it has not met any of the administrations goals and projections, which were low balled anyway to be easily obtainable (thus helping re-election). So if being unsure means I am talking out of my ass, then fine. But then so is the Obama administration, which is infinitely worse than some guy who writes a column in Buffalo.

  29. Ethan September 29, 2010 at 8:39 pm #

    “My problem with Larry Summers is not the revolving door, but that his policies and ideas suck.”

    The thing is, Brian,  his ideas and policies suck (for us; not for his set) precisely because of that revolving door.  

    As well, there is not “the” alternative, there are alternatives.  One of which (and one nobody is discussing; a straw man) might be ‘closing the door permanently’ but really: who advocates for that?

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