As President-elect Obama begins appointing officials to his administration, the leftie blogosphere has been complaining that too many positions have gone to former Clinton officials, which they interpret as a shift to the center. And they object to it as such. But, the ideological origins of Obama’s in-coming administration are more complicated than a binary choice between Clintonistas and change. The Democratic Party pre-dates the arrival of the Clintons in Washington in 1993 and some of those who have worked hardest for Obama got their political start working for Gene McCarthy back in 1968.
Gregory Craig was an early supporter of Obama even though he had worked for the Clintons as well. He is slated to become White House Counsel. Craig got his start in politics working in Nebraska on the McCarthy campaign. John Podesta, who is in charge of the transition, also got his start in politics working for McCarthy, and his brother, the uber-lobbyist Tony Podesta, had the unenviable task of organizing Gary, Indiana for McCarthy in the face of a local political establishment that was firmly in the Kennedy camp. Craig and the Podestas have been a half-step away from power or closer ever since.
In 1968, Marty Peretz became actively involved in the McCarthy campaign, raising money and giving speeches on his behalf. Peretz’s daughter is even named Evgenia. In 2008, Peretz became a stalwart supporter of Obama. He again raised money and was especially helpful in persuading Jewish voters in Florida that they could trust Obama. Peretz’s 1960s anti-war leftism did not survive the 1973 Yom Kippur War, but his steadfast support for Israel through the years came in handy in Florida.
Sometimes the connections from the McCarthy campaign to the Obama presidency are exceedingly dense. Both John and Tony Podesta came to Colorado in 1974 to help Sam Brown get elected State Treasurer. The three had met on the McCarthy campaign. In the Carter administration, John Podesta worked for Brown at the Action agency. This year, Brown raised more than $1 million for Obama according to a source close to the campaign’s finance wing and has spent much of the past three election cycles raising money for congressional candidates while Podesta’s Center for American Progress provides those same candidates with policy briefings. Brown served in the Clinton administration as ambassador to the Vienna-based Organization on Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), a position that became critical during negotiations about Bosnia and Kosovo because Russia was a member of OSCE but was not party to the multi-lateral organizations in Brussels. With Russia growing ever more menacing, look for Brown to return to Europe or land a job at Foggy Bottom.
I am sure there are others from the McCarthy campaign who remain active in the early stages of the Obama years. I am also sure there are some Democrats who came to Washington with Walter Mondale, or who found their own way here, and have risen to the ranks where they might expect an appointment. Obama is evidently going to bring some new blood with him, too, nominating Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano as Secretary of Homeland Security and installing his Chicago advisor David Axelrod as a White House counselor.
The "change or Clintonista" distinction is not just a distinction without a difference. It is a distinction that ignores one of American liberalism’s finest beliefs: Provenance is the least important thing to know about a person or an idea. It is a belief Gene McCarthy would endorse.