Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Roosevelt's Brain Trust vs. Obama's Brainiacs

truthout | Even if everyone is now using the Great Depression and the New Deal as benchmarks for what we're living through, Act I of the new script has already veered away from the original.

A suffocating political and intellectual provincialism has captured the new administration in embryo. Instead of embracing a sense of adventurousness, a readiness to break with the past so enthusiastically promoted during the campaign, Obama seems overcome with inhibitions and fears.

Practically without exception he has chosen to staff his government at its highest levels with refugees from the Clinton years. This is emphatically true in the realms of foreign and economic policy. It would, in fact, be hard to find an original idea among the new appointees being called to power in those realms - some way of looking at the American empire abroad or the structure of power and wealth at home that departs radically from views in circulation a decade or more ago. A team photo of Obama's key cabinet and other appointments at Treasury, Health and Human Services, Commerce, the President's Economic Recovery Advisory Board, the State Department, the Pentagon, the National Security Council, and in the U.S. Intelligence Community, not to speak of senior advisory posts around the President himself, could practically have been teleported from perhaps the year 1995.

Recycled Clintonism is recycled neo-liberalism. This is change only the brainiacs from Hyde Park and Harvard Square could believe in. Only the experts could get hot under the collar about the slight differences between "behavioral economics" (the latest academic fad that fascinates some high level Obama-ites) and straight-up neo-liberal deference to the market. And here's the sobering thing: despite the grotesque extremism of the Bush years, neo-liberalism also served as its ideological magnetic north.

Is this parochialism, this timorousness and lack of imagination, inevitable in a period like our own, when the unknown looms menacingly and one natural reaction is certainly to draw back, to find refuge in the familiar? Here, the New Deal years can be instructive.