Obama's Lauded Appointees Have Failed to Measure Up

Obama's Lauded Appointees Have Failed to Measure Up

By Richard Benedetto - June 15, 2012

Like almost everything written and said about President Obama and his new administration as they stood poised to take office in 2009, the intellectual, governmental and political skills of his Cabinet and executive team were overinflated and fawned over by a news media caught in the national swoon.

“The team he has announced so far is more impressive than any other in recent memory,” wrote New York Times columnist David Brooks.

“We have not seen this kind of combination of star power and brain power and political muscle this early in a Cabinet in our lifetimes,” chimed in ABC’s George Stephanopoulos, a former star in the Clinton administration.

Obama himself, not at all shy when it comes to using the superlative, was equally effusive in praising his picks, and pledged to create “the most transparent administration in history.”

Well, 3½ years have passed since all that hype. We’ve had plenty of time to assess just how good all that talent was. Suffice to say, few have lived up to their early billing. And now, with a tough re-election fight on his hands, some of Obama’s hand-picked “stars” are showing more than a little tarnish:

-- Attorney General Eric Holder, who has been in and out of hot water throughout his tenure, is now facing a possible contempt-of-Congress citation in connection with his alleged withholding of information in the botched Fast & Furious gun scheme run by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. He also is taking heat for not appointing an independent prosecutor to look into possible national security leaks from the White House. Texas Republican Sen. John Cornyn has called on Holder to resign.

-- Current and former Obama White House aides are facing serious legal questions regarding those leaks, in which reporters were told of cyber-attacks on Iran’s nuclear program, among other things, to aid the president’s re-election effort. An investigation is underway.

-- Brett McGurk, Obama’s nominee to be ambassador to Iraq, has been publicly embarrassed by recent disclosures that he carried on an extramarital affair in 2008 with Wall Street Journal reporter Gina Chon. Chon was covering him in Iraq at the time while he was working in the Bush administration. Chon, now McGurk’s wife, was forced to resign from the Journal this week for not disclosing the relationship to her editors. The development could hold up McGurk’s confirmation, or kill it.

-- U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk, a former mayor of Dallas, is taking heat from Republicans and Democrats for failing to provide Congress with more transparency regarding trade talks with eight Pacific nations billed as a “NAFTA for Asia.” A leaked document from the talks surfaced Wednesday, revealing that the administration intends to grant radical new political powers to multinational corporations.

-- Commerce Secretary John Bryson has taken a sudden medical leave of absence. He was found unconscious Saturday behind the wheel of his car shortly after he allegedly crashed into two cars in suburban Los Angeles and left the scene of the accidents. The administration says he suffered a “seizure” and is undergoing medical tests.

-- The head of the General Services Administration, Martha Johnson, resigned in April and several deputies were fired following revelations of lavish and mismanaged spending, most notably $822,000 for a fancy Las Vegas conference.

Going back farther, we have Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner’s tax problems and the resignation after two years of Lawrence Summers, Obama’s top economic adviser, who left with no apparent improvement in the economy.

Then, there was Holder’s controversial (and later rescinded) decision to try Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the mastermind of the World Trade Center terrorist attacks, in a civil court. Holder’s Justice Department also led the ill-advised and failed prosecution of former Sen. John Edwards and the botched prosecution of the late Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens.

And the list goes on.

All this is not to say that Obama’s picks were worse than those made by previous presidents. It just shows that they weren’t the brightest and the best ever, as previously billed. Average is more like it, despite what the spinners say. 

Richard Benedetto is a retired USA Today White House correspondent and columnist. He now teaches politics and journalism at American University and in The Fund for American Studies at George Mason University. You can follow him on Twitter at @benedettopress.


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