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Why Did Obama Bypass Robert Reich?

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what am i, chopped liver?
What am I? Chopped Liver?

Of all the cabinet choices that Obama didn’t make, there are a few that really stick out. Not choosing Bill Richardson at State after he had switched loyalties from the Clinton camp early in the game and delivered a big jolt of legitimacy to the Obama team is one, but at least he got a job – if not the one he wanted. The big and potentially most worrying missing name from Obama’s line-up is Robert Reich. Now, it’s very possible that Reich said he wasn’t interested, that he preferred being an academic and a commentator, but it’s also possible he was left out in the cold.

If the latter is indeed true, it would be a very worrying sign for the economic path Obama is likely to take. Reich is the most reasonable, sensible, honest, straightforward and intelligent guy who wasn’t chosen to steer the economy. He knows the mistakes that were made, he saw them coming a mile off, and unlike Tim Geithner, he has no role whatsoever in the disaster that has befallen us. His only ‘crime’ maybe that he is seen as too ‘progressive’, and might ‘scare Wall Street’ (not that Wall Street’s opinion is worth a bucket of spit).

But if ever Obama was going to signal, I don’t know, real change, then choosing Robert Reich at Treasury, or to be a chief economic advisor, or something else that had real clout in the economic sphere, would have been a great signal of his intent to whip things up. The fact that Obama passed over Reich suggests that he’s far more associated with the economic orthodoxy than he should be – especially considering that the orthodoxy just blew up in everyone’s face.

Instead we’re presented with an economic team of really smart guys, including Geithner who was part of the disastrous judgement call on letting Lehman’s go down, and Paul Volcker, who’s very, very old. They inspire, shall we say, competence, if not confidence. Reich would have been a breath of fresh air. Not only is he usually right on the money, he’s also a very accessible guy who knows how to connect with the American public. Perfect for the opaque, complex and contradictory world that is the US Economy. There’s no comparison between him and the present boss at Treasury, Hank Paulson, who managed, virtually single-handedly, to turn an economic rocky-patch into the meltdown it became, and accelerate and exacerbate the recession.

If there’s one omission from the cabinet that truly suggests that Obama plays the economic middle ground, it’s not making a bid to get Reich in a position of economic influence. Hopefully, economic competence will be enough to turn the nation’s fortunes around. Personally, I’m not so sure.

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