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article imageOp-Ed: Obama’s first moves send the right signals

By Paul Wallis     Jan 21, 2009 in Politics
President Obama has made some very interesting preliminary moves on his first day in office. The freeze on wages for senior staff at the White House is a good move in terms of making it clear that some stringency is coming.
This was done without the rhetoric that tends to devalue the idea, just blunt and long overdue comment on public service: As The New York Times reports:
“Public service is a privilege. It’s not about advantaging yourself. It’s not about advancing your friends or your corporate clients,” Mr. Obama said. “It’s not about advancing an ideological agenda or the special interests of any organization. Public service is simply and absolutely about advancing the interests of Americans.”
Nice to know somebody knows that. The ethical desert created by partisan politics and insider networks was largely responsible for the wheels falling off executive level government and administration.
As an example of total cultural failure of a political and administrative system, it’s been an unredeemed total disaster.
The end of that culture alone should save billions, and maybe some pride. The embarrassing incompetence that went with it has been a sore point with Americans for years. You could actually hear Middle America grinding its teeth through the Iraq contracts, Hurricane Katrina, and the bizarre apparent ignorance of so many well known issues.
The stringency has to start somewhere. The US administrations of the prosperous years were guilty of one truly self destructive act: Public spending and sheer sloppiness in management created so many problems that budgets have been largely theoretical, and in real money terms, murderously expensive.
At no point were the brakes applied. Appropriations made their pathetic, limping appearances before Congress, like gamblers trying to make a new start for the 100th time. Federal wages tanked several times. Even the payroll wasn’t being so much managed as occasionally poked with a stick. Audits became more like post mortems.
You can’t run the sort of gigantic budgets most American government bodies operate like that. That there’s a deficit is no surprise. The only real surprise is that nobody hocked the furniture. Don’t be surprised to see some real hard targets set, because that should have been done in about 2004.
As an ex public servant, I have to say Obama’s right about public service. It’s not about you, it’s about the country. Not realizing that is what does the damage. I don't think some of these guys are even aware there are any personal obligations on them. They've certainly never been trained that there are. National disasters don’t have ideologies, just excuses. Unfortunately the ideologies became the excuses, when you don't know any better.
This doesn’t look like cosmetic government at any level, so far. Obama isn’t even trying for a honeymoon period, and he doesn’t really have the time, unfortunately. The moves to tidy up Guantanamo, Iraq, and the rest of the shopping list of problems have obviously had a lot of preliminary work.
Don’t be surprised to see a stream of orders and changes issuing from the White House in the next few months. This is looking like nuts and bolts government, turning the machine into a working model.
Interestingly, the psychological effect of the new administration is likely to be its initial contribution. People are now prepared to believe something will be done.
The economic stimulus package has enough credibility to generate some uncharacteristic optimism in the markets. That’s the good news so far, and if the timid trolls of Whatsitsname Street and elsewhere develop spines with enough government support for their fearless financing, who knows, someone might even get a business loan one day.
As someone who grew up in an ad agency, I’m skeptical that the finance sector is suddenly about to grow brains. I’d say “Don’t suspend your disbelief just yet, but let’s acknowledge the fact that at least the clowns have put their greasepaint back on.”
If Obama can get those idiots functioning, he’ll have achieved a miracle. Everything else will be icing on the cake.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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