Obama criticism, Obama problems New Year
Sanjay Gupta

Team Obama Comes Under Fire in New Year

January 09, 2009 05:50 PM
by Josh Katz
The Obama administration appeared to be pushing all the right buttons after Election Day, but recently, many of the team’s decisions have faced criticism.

Recent Obama Woes

President-elect Barack Obama seemed like he could do not wrong after winning the election. He avoided the mistakes of the Clinton administration and quickly put together his top advisers after months of planning. Not only that, but his Cabinet picks were, for the most part, applauded.

He packed his staff with seasoned Washington veterans like Rahm Emanuel and Tom Daschle; critics blamed Obama for veering away from his pledge of “change” by bringing in Washington insiders, but few denied their capabilities. Obama even put aside the acrimony with Hillary Clinton and placed her in the secretary of state position. He laid out his powerhouse team of economic advisers, and the tanking stock market even showed signs of resurgence.

But the Obama team’s actions in 2009 have puzzled many observers. Bill Richardson was chosen as commerce secretary, but then withdrew amid a federal investigation; the pick of CNN doctor-reporter Sanjay Gupta for surgeon general has raised eyebrows; some say the appointments for the national intelligence and CIA directors lack intelligence experience; and Obama’s economic proposals have met opposition.

The selection of Pastor Rick Warren to deliver Obama’s invocation has added to the recent criticism. Warren has been attacked for his stringent opposition to abortion and same-sex marriage. The Rod Blagojevich and Roland Burris affair, which is based on the senator’s vacant position, does not help matters either.

According to Roger Simon of Politico, “For an outfit known for its lack of drama, Team Obama has become a downright thrill show.”

Intelligence Team

Obama’s recent choice of Leon Panetta, White House chief of staff to former President Bill Clinton, as CIA director, was met with plenty of criticism. The president-elect also tapped retired Adm. Dennis Blair as director of national intelligence to the chagrin of many.

Senate Intelligence committee chair Diane Feinstein of California was particularly irate about the Panetta nomination because she was not consulted beforehand. She said last week that an “intelligence professional” would make a better fit, but she has since changed her views and it does not appear that either candidate will have trouble getting confirmed, Reuters reports.

But the main criticism hurled against Panetta is that the former White House Chief of Staff lacks the credentials to head the CIA. Blair also didn’t rise through the ranks of the intelligence community. Ralph Peters, who served as an intelligence officer in the U.S. army writes in the New York Post, “Would you ask your accountant to perform brain surgery on your child? That’s the closest analogy I can find to the choice of Democratic Party hack Leon Panetta to head the CIA.”

But the Obama administration contends that Panetta is the ideal choice because he is a CIA outsider, far away from the problems that characterized the agency in recent years, and can inject a fresh perspective. David Ignatius of RealClearPolitics commends the team’s pick, claiming, “the reality is that the professionals now lack the political muscle to fend off the agency’s critics and second-guessers. That’s the heart of the problem: The agency needs to rebuild political support before it can be depoliticized.”

The Sanjay Gupta Factor

Obama decided to pick CNN’s Dr. Sanjay Gupta for the position of Surgeon General. The decision caught many people by surprise and has provided comedians and columnists with plenty of fodder.

This is dismaying since Gupta has embraced junk science, has questionable ethics and seems to have been chosen mostly because he is famous,” writes Michael Giltz in The Huffington Post. “Forget a Team of Rivals: this is the latest example of Obama’s Team of Celebrities.” As an example, Giltz points out that Gupta has warned against the potentially deleterious effects of cell phones, and chooses to only wear an earpiece. He also calls Gupta unethical for speaking at events for pay as a journalist.

However, The Economist thinks the Gupta nomination has potential. According to the U.K. paper, “the biggest reason to think Dr. Gupta may succeed is the fact that the only real power the surgeon-general has is the use of his bully pulpit to promote public health goals, such as healthy eating and stopping smoking.” He notes that many former surgeon generals failed because they didn’t have successful rapport with the American public. 

Bill Richardson Under Fire

Bill Richardson has had a bumpy history with the Obama team. He was passed over for both vice president and secretary of state. Then Obama finally gave him the nod for commerce secretary, but his future in the administration wasn’t meant to be. He withdrew from the commerce secretary position on Jan. 4 because federal officials were investigating him for allegedly helping a corporation that had donated money to one of his political committees obtain a financial-advisory contract.

Roger Simon of Politico puts the blame for the Richardson affair on Obama. How come nobody on the Obama team said, “Before we name this guy, let’s keep looking into this. After all, a late appointment is better than an embarrassing appointment”?

Economic Storm Clouds

Obama’s election in November gave the economy a needed boost, and the markets have come back 20 percent since then. His selection of a luminary economic staff, including New York Federal Reserve Chief Tim Geithner as Treasury Secretary, and Paul Volcker, the head of the U.S. Federal Reserve during the Reagan years, as the chairman-designate of the newly formed Economic Recovery Advisory Board, also helped matters. 

But, according to Reuters, the economic climate may “dim Wall Street’s honeymoon with Obama.” The ominous job market might drown consumer confidence during the early weeks of the new administration.

Obama unveiled details about his new economic plan on Thursday, hoping that Congress will quickly pass it when his term begins. But it now appears that passage will not go as smoothly as hoped, despite the Democratic Congress. The “newly sworn-in lawmakers of the 111th Congress began questioning specifics of the plan, and dashed expectations for a quick vote,” according to The Wall Street Journal.

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