Tuesday, December 2

What Bob Herbert said. And didn't say.

What he said:

why do I have this uneasy feeling?

Hillary Clinton, Robert Gates, Eric Holder, Rahm Emanuel, Larry Summers ...

Competence is clearly trumping ideology in the next administration, and lord knows after two terms of Bush & Co. it’s time to get back to the idea of smart, capable people advising the president and executing his policies.

What I wonder is whether the members of this team, in addition to their grasp of the issues and success at achieving power, have a real feel for the needs of the people they are supposed to be representing.

I don’t doubt that they have the best of intentions. But the people at the pinnacle of power in Washington are encased in a bubble that makes it extremely hard to hear the voices of those who aren’t already powerful themselves.

And then he goes off on a "Washington insiders are too insular to care about poor people" riff, which is Herbert's job over at the NYT.

There are lots of editorials to be written about how government can better serve the underclass. And Herbert has written them. But this editorial was about something else, something less important perhaps, but it irks me that, like a cook bored with cooking, Herbert decided to cover his delicate salad with a jar of 'concern for the poor' gravy and be done with it.

The delicate salad is the "competence trumping ideology" meme regarding Obama's choices for his cabinet. And that they are Washington insiders, which brings competence but also insularity. And with insularity comes, yes, a lack of concern for those outside the beltway.

But that is where the blogosphere comes in.

I owe a great debt to Bob Herbert and his lost-in-the-middle editorial, because in a few words he's given us progressive bloggers a map to where we need to be. I giggle out loud at bloggers who are outraged that, gasp, Obama turns out to be a Washington insider himself.

Here we are, left-wing activists with a small podium, decidedly and by choice outside both Washington and the mainstream corporate media, and yet able to, apparently, affect the outcome of Congressional campaigns. Unless we decide, nyah nyah, we and our 238 commenters don't want to "march in lockstep." Because we're such independent free thinkers.

Please. Here you are, reading one of the tiniest blogs by a woman who considers herself the queen of the indy bloggers, and I'm linking to NYT and Kos today, Before I go over to the way big video borg blog (love them) to post something else.

Herbert missed the boat by playing the poor people card. Again, editorials about helping poor people are what he does very well, and we'll sure need more of them in the next little, well, forever. But this editorial was really about politics: the fact that Obama has the best of all possible political worlds in which to make life better for all of us. His support staff inside the White House are, well, insiders. There, competence, which is code for "insider knows who's who in DC and how to work it," trumps ideology. And his posse on the outside, not nearly so disciplined but face it, still on his side, is ideological to a fault and without apology. They're also the most technologically astute and interconnected bunch the world has ever known.

My job as one small blogger is to keep the faith, to make sure that progressive ideology (you know, like, "Washington insiders should not forget the underclass", that kinda shit) does not get lost in all the "competence" with which Obama has surrounded himself. If Bob Herbert can stay on message, he can help.


  1. --- and I'm happy to have my blog join yours. Progressives require quantitative movement... the more of us the merrier... and the more likely change will happen.

    Under The LobsterScope

  2. Anonymous2:49 PM

    Well, Obama may get one cabinet pick right...


  3. Anonymous4:11 PM

    Bob is, as you say, just doing his job. I have been over at some econ blogs where there are academic debates about whether Obama should spend big to get working people back on a job, verses the deficit hawks that want the budget paid down for long term stability even at the cost of long term unemployment for 10% of the US workforce.
    The point I tried to make was the same you're position. We have a government that currently operates via benign neglect. Once we have "competent" adults running government we will see improvement just from having them in positions of power.
    Can you comprehend what the Obama administration will do with some focus and a rational approach to governance?
    Let's give the man some time to put his team together. If he runs the country half as well as he ran his campaign then we will see light through the ungodly mess of W's making.

  4. Thank you for your perspective on this. You know, what has upset me the most about the past 8 years is related to the competence idea: Performance. We've been paying those folks way more than I'll ever get, and they have not been doing their jobs. Now my feeling about what's happening now is that those jobs are hard. Not just anyone can do them at all, much less up to a standard of excellence. The way I see it, at this point, nothing but excellence will do. We have a unique and fragile opportunity right now to do something about the nosedive the country is in. We need to avoid blowing it in the very biggest of ways. Sometimes you don't get to like all of the players, but if they do their parts well you can at least respect them for that. And wasn't the use of ideology as criteria for job appointments one of the things we hated about the way the republicans governed? Where did we get our "get off of the shit list free" cards on that issue, anyway? So I guess that in politics, the idea of diversity means you have to include some reptiles. They just have to be very good reptiles at what they do. End of rant.
    -Doug in Oakland

  5. 'I'm linking to NYT and Kos today'

    Why didn't you go for the trifecta and link to HuffPo, too, queen of the indy bloggers?

    Oh, right, forgot they wouldn't have anything relevant.


  6. Anonymous8:32 PM

    Great post. I understand the immediate need to people a new administration with people who are competent and able to attack problems--and we sure have them--now. But, a big but, Obama isn't a liberal/progressive and neither, apparently, are his initial cabinet picks. I don't know how this will play out, but I do know that we can't afford to not be vigilant. That is, DC insiders were the ones who were comfortable with granting teleocms immunity with respect to their role in the illegal wiretapping of the Bush administration and went along with enacting the Patriot Act, etc., and that is hardly assuring. I don't know what to expect except that it has to be better--much better--than what we've had.

  7. I have to agree with what PINYC said. All along I have felt that it was ridiculous that Obama was painted by the Right's pundits as this far left radical, when he is actually more centrist and sometimes center right (irony!)
    I do think we need to keep a careful watch with this administration, and make sure that the interests of the lower class/poor are represented, and that progressive voices are not silenced.

  8. While enjoying your "delicate salad" meme, I'd like to say that it seems to be mainly PR for the masses to me. Yes, they are competent at doing what will benefit them and their backers (AIPAC, etc.), some of whom I even support, but the economy is on fire now and even the so-called "competents" are arguing over the flame retardants. When Obama didn't pick someone of Dean Baker's or Paul Krugman's caliber for Treasury or the financial slots, I feared the fix was in for letting the masses suffer through the correction. I have seen nothing since then to correct that impression.

    I've just posted the new shadow unemployment numbers on my blog that I found this morning on the internets.

    Take a look.



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