Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Jon Stewart Is Not the New FTC Commissioner, and Other Pipe Dreams Dashed…

I’ll let all the news and media junkies who know Stewart’s actual birth name chuckle amongst themselves. It would be pretty wild if the Daily Show’s host were picked for a government post… okay, it’s a stupid idea.
But well-intentioned stupid ideas are nothing new, nor are they ever going to go out of style.


The Obama administration has chosen Federal Trade Commission member Jon Leibowitz to serve as the next Chairman of the FTC.

Some of the recent assignments announced by President Obama have been predictably contrarian, (in keeping with his “Team of Rivals” fantasies) and other choices have been downright baffling (Keeping Ben Bernanke and even Robert Gates –-and even Christian Marrone?!) This Leibowitz appointment is actually a move toward sane, with-the-grain appointments in terms of the country’s needs and mood, being that the era of sweeping deregulation has fostered an era of criminal abuses at every level of our economy. It seems we need more cops and less policymakers in order to stop the bleeding, shore up the building, guard the homestead, etc., etc.… insert whatever metaphor you like here because the Dow Jones just lost all the additional value it had “created” in the last 12 years.

But this appointment of an MPAA lobbyist to the FTC should probably upset people who voted for the Obama/Biden ticket more than it does. After all, the FTC is responsible for reviewing and allowing mergers between corporations in keeping with antitrust laws among many other responsibilities of oversight on the federal level. While the President specified that only his cabinet would be barred to lobbyists (except when he decides on exceptions to this rule) the appointment of any lobbyist to a chairmanship of this scope is unsettling. The FTC enforces almost all of the entire body of consumer protection law in America, and most lobbyists that have represented industry associations like the MPAA have been famously hard at work against existing laws and regulations as well as bills that try to limit the practices of the businesses that may exploit consumers. A lobbyist is now in charge of the FTC; there’ll be no Senate hearings or vetting by either party because Jon Leibowitz doesn't need Senate confirmation: he’s already an active commissioner.

So much for “change.”

I keep hearing that “Washington is Washington” and that it is unrealistic to expect lobbyists to disappear from the political apparatus.
It’s the way things have worked since the old days, I keep hearing.
The thing is, I didn’t vote for the “same old, same old.” If I had, I would have flicked the lever for McCain/Palin back on November 4.

Jon Leibowitz is aggressively “pro regulation” on issues like online privacy and the emerging ad supported economies that rely on behavioral targeting and data mining of users online. That he scares all the people in marketing who want exploit online users (think about the nonsense Facebook recently tried with their sudden change in end user terms regarding “ownership” of information) isn’t enough to quell all doubts about potential conflicts of interest and concerns about ideological clarity coming into this job.

It makes me think of a conversation I had with a good friend from my College days, named Ethan Callender, who reminded me that Obama did not run as a Progressive and made no promises to Progressives in exchange for their votes. He never once said that he would challenge the Democratic Party establishment or its ossified postures by committing a wave of Progressive appointments to either his cabinet or the government at large. President Obama merely promised “change.” I just assumed it meant a wave of Progressives coming into government, as well as the increasing influence of figures like Dennis Kucinich or Russ Feingold. Ethan said we should be more concerned with the functional abilities of the coming appointed officials after the eight years of incompetence we just suffered through. The problem remains though: the appointments largely will determine the will to make change, and it is from that will to make change that the ability to make change is generated in government in many respects.

And here we all thought that being the opposite of the Bush administration meant a Progressive administration… not necessarily.

So far, (and realistically speaking it’s only been a month,) acting in contra pose to eight years of Bush and Cheney actually means a kind of “practical centrism” and at least the visible, sometimes theatrical efforts at bipartisan alliance and the promotion of workable consensus.

Thinking that President Obama may have been some kind of messianic statesman who was going to take on all the aspirations and bundle all of the road maps of Franklin Roosevelt’s “New Deal”, Lyndon Johnson’s “Great Society” and Bobby Kennedy’s “Newer World” may have been some kind of pipe dream, or audacious hope on our part. The nature of the appointments and extensions of Bush Administration appointees that President Obama has already made, are a sign that our Commander in Chief may have to become more like Abraham Lincoln than he or any of us realized.

Lincoln’s legacy is complicated today by the assertions (assertions in his own rediscovered words) that while he did not believe in Slavery, he did not believe in racial equality either. Yet, who would put any other man in his stead, into that turbulent place in history when our country ceased to exist for months and years at a time? Someone like John Brown could never have been elected President. Lincoln was the best man America could have hoped for in the 19th century. He was a principled career politician with his eyes on the big picture, -everybody’s big picture. Most importantly, Lincoln was an able statesman who knew talent and intellect when he saw it, even when it came in the form of an adversary.
President Obama also understands that the country’s solutions may come at the price of letting political adversaries sit at the table. Our President may not be offered the luxury of letting America think he is ideologically pure, or letting us think that he is an answer to all the forestalled promises of past Presidents who promised “change.”

He is still the best person we could have possibly hoped to elect as President of the United States in 2008. There is no equivalence whatsoever between an Obama presidency and what would have been the McCain presidency, although I’m nervous about the open-ended “non plan” in Afghanistan. Pipe dreams notwithstanding, it’s still early. It’s early enough that I still eagerly await future appointments that make good on that postponed America...

I’m talking about the America that President Obama assured us all exists on election night.
Only Progressives want to work toward that reality.

I have the audacity to hope for something more than another lobbyist getting a high level government job just because he’d be good at it.

I have the audacity to hope for the change to come.



Jack Jodell said...

I share that audacity to hope, SJ, and your friend Callendar has a very valid p[oint. I think it's silly for progressives or anyone else to be pissing and moaning at this point. First of all, the guy's only been in office for 5 measly weeks! NO ONE could produce fabulous results in that time period, with a brand new administration just barely starting to gel. Second, by the very nature of politics, none of us will ever get 100% of what we want. Sometimes only 40% or 60% is the best we'll get, but we'll end up a helluva lot further ahead than when we started. Third, Obama has a wider than normal range of serious problems for a new President to deal with, and he HAS hit the ground running, to his credit. Finally, though, and this is my most important point: Obama, unlike Bush, is NOT an enemy of the people hell bent on screwing the average citizen. Skeptics and cynics should keep this in mind. The Cheney/Bush monarchy is over, period. This is a work in progress. People need to just cool their jets and watch as the differences from the previous lawless regime unfold, as they definitely will.

SJ said...

Yes sir. It's only been 5 weeks. This is going to be one long, long, long presidency.
It feels like he's been in there for six months already.
I will say this, for the first time in my life, I have a president and an administration in power who I expect more from as time goes by. I've been more emboldened to hope as I've see this cabinet take shape. For me that's a first. I think in the past I've only expected less and less as time went on. That being said, I have expectations for our President:

1) End the war in Iraq and Afghanistan.
2) Create good lasting jobs and restore the lower and middle classes and the working poor.
3) Pass health care legislation.
4) Stop abuses of the environment and slow the destruction of our climate.
5) Greatly reduce our consumption of foreign oil, particulary from Middle Eastern countries.

I mean, thanks not too much to ask is it? I suppose I'm drunk on hope.

Thanks for your insightful comments
as always Jack.

Jack Jodell said...

I'm with you all the way, brother SJ! I would add a few items to the wish list too:
1) End the Cuban embargo and open up trade and travel with that island.
2) Start heavy diplomacy with Iran
3) Tax the rich, and put a 10% surcharge on bonuses and golden parachutes over $1 million.

SJ said...

You know Jack, I was talking with my collaborator on this blog this afternoon and he made me realize we both forgot to add:
"stopping torture and rendition programs."

Jack Jodell said...

OUCH! Sometimes things are so blatantly obvious they get overlooked!