|A Team of Zombies
By David Sirota
ONLY WEEKS ago, the political world was buzzing about a "team of
rivals." America was told that finally, after years of yes-men running
the government, we were getting a president who would follow Abraham
Lincoln's lead, fill his administration with varying viewpoints, and
glean empirically sound policy from the clash of ideas. Little did we
know that "team of rivals" was what George Orwell calls "newspeak": an
empty slogan "claiming that black is white, in contradiction of the
Obama's national security team, for instance, includes not a single
Iraq war opponent. The president has not only retained George W.
Bush's defense secretary, Robert Gates, but also 150 other Bush
Pentagon appointees. The only "rivalry" is between those who back
increasing the already bloated defense budget by an absurd amount and
those who aim to boost it by a ludicrous amount.
Of course, that lock-step uniformity pales in comparison to the White
House's economic team—a squad of corporate lackeys disguised as public
At the top is Lawrence Summers, the director of Obama's National
Economic Council. As Bill Clinton's Treasury secretary in the late
1990s, Summers worked with his deputy, Tim Geithner (now Obama's
Treasury secretary), and Clinton aide Rahm Emanuel (now Obama's chief
of staff) to champion job-killing trade deals and deregulation that
Obama Commerce Secretary-designate Judd Gregg helped shepherd through
Congress as a Republican senator. Now, this pinstriped band of
brothers is proposing a "cash for trash" scheme that would force the
public to guarantee the financial industry's bad loans. It's another
ploy "to hand taxpayer dollars to the banks through a variety of
complex mechanisms," says economist Dean Baker—and noticeably absent
is anything even resembling a "rival" voice inside the White House.
That's not an oversight. From former federal officials like Robert
Reich and Brooksley Born, to Nobel Prize-winning economists like
Joseph Stiglitz and Paul Krugman, to business leaders like Leo
Hindery, there's no shortage of qualified experts who have challenged
market fundamentalism. But they have been barred from an
administration focused on ideological purity.
In Hindery's case, the blacklisting was explicit. Despite this venture
capitalist establishing a well-respected think tank and serving as a
top economic adviser to Obama's campaign, the Politico reports that
"Obama's aides appear never to have taken his bid [for an
administration post] seriously." Why? Because he "set himself up in
opposition" to Wall Street's agenda.
The anecdote highlights how, regardless of election hoopla, Washington
is the same one-party town it always has been—controlled not by
Democrats or Republicans, but by kleptocrats (i.e., thieves). Their
ties to money make them the undead zombies in the slash-and-burn
horror flick that is American politics: No matter how many times their
discredited theologies are stabbed, torched and shot down by
verifiable failure, their careers cannot be killed. Somehow, these
political immortals are allowed to mindlessly lunge forward, never
answering to rivals—even if that rival is the president himself.
Remember, while Obama said he wants to slash "billions of dollars in
wasteful spending" at the Pentagon, his national security team is
demanding a $40 billion increase in defense spending (evidently, the
"ludicrous" faction got its way). Obama also said he wants to crack
down on the financial industry, strengthen laws encouraging the
government to purchase American goods, and transform trade policy.
Yet, his economic team is not just promising to support more bank
bailouts, but also to weaken "Buy America" statutes and make sure new
legislation "doesn't signal a change in our overall stance on trade,"
according to the president's spokesman.
Indeed, if an authentic "rivalry" was going to erupt, it would have
been between Obama's promises and his team of zombies. Unfortunately,
the latter seems to have won before the competition even started.
David Sirota is the best-selling author of "Hostile Takeover" (2006)
and "The Uprising" (2008). He is a fellow at the Campaign for
America's Future. Find his blog at OpenLeft.com or e-mail him at