25 YEARS OF CN: The Establishment’s Thanksgiving—Nov. 29, 2008

The late Robert Parry, founder of this site, wrote 12 years ago that neoconservatives in Washington had a lot to be thankful for with the newly-elected Barack Obama.

The Washington Post building. (Daniel X. O’Neil)

Click here to see the original article.

By Robert Parry
Special to Consortium News
Nov. 29, 2008

Surprisingly this Thanksgiving, the Washington Establishment had a lot to give thanks for. And its chief mouthpiece – The Washington Post’s neoconservative editorial page – was glowing over its good fortune in the three-plus weeks since Barack Obama’s election.

On Friday, the Post’s lead editorial thanked President-elect Obama for settling on insider favorites for key jobs, especially officials with long records of promoting the neocon foreign policy agenda.

In Post speak, Obama “has so far placed an admirable emphasis on proven competence over personal loyalty or political purity.”

In the frame of the Washington Establishment, “proven competence” means you were a strong supporter of George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq and see any failure there as a matter of Donald Rumsfeld’s tactical mistakes, not fundamental misjudgments. You also must show a manly regard for the brilliant “surge” strategy.

The Post’s sneer about “political purity” refers to someone who either opposed the Iraq War from the start or broke from the Washington consensus early and wants as swift a withdrawal as possible.

The Post editorial writers were especially excited over the prospect of Obama keeping Robert Gates as Defense Secretary. “We hereby join what undoubtedly will be the large chorus that hails this choice,” they wrote.

The Post also hailed the expected selection of Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State and the early appointment of Rahm Emanuel as White House chief of staff. The common denominator of the three is a close association with Bush’s Iraq War – Gates as its current defender and Clinton and Emanuel as neocon-lite Democrats who were early advocates.

The troika of Gates, Clinton and Emanuel – with a supporting cast of Bush administration holdovers at the Pentagon and “centrist Democrats” from the Brookings Institution moving to State – will mean at minimum that Obama will encounter many dragging feet slowing a military withdrawal from Iraq.

Obama may think it’s quite clever – or at least literary – to assemble “a team of rivals” in the mold of Abraham Lincoln in 1861. But he’s likely in for a rude awakening over what it means in the world of modern Washington to assemble an administration in which top players and their subordinates don’t agree with your positions.

At a news conference on Nov. 26, Obama brushed aside this concern with a confidence in the strength of his persuasive powers to prevail over any institutional resistance.

“Understand where the vision for change comes from first and foremost,” Obama said. “It comes from me. That’s my job, is to provide a vision in terms of where we are going and to make sure that my team is implementing it.”

The Big Winner

Nevertheless, the surprise big winner of the Obama transition has been the Washington Establishment, which you might have thought on Election Night to have been one of the biggest losers.

In many ways, the decisive victory for Obama’s “change” message represented a burning desire among many Americans to shake things up in Washington, bring in some new faces and give the nation a fresh start.

Many voters saw Obama as the anti-Establishment candidate, a young African-American who had the wisdom to oppose the Iraq War from the start, versus a long-time Establishment favorite, John McCain, who envisioned a near-permanent U.S. presence in Iraq.

More broadly, Obama’s victory was a repudiation of George W. Bush’s eight-year presidency, which started with the Establishment cheering on the Texas governor and the supposed “adults” who would return with him to Washington.

In 2002-03, the Establishment also offered an enthusiastic embrace of Bush’s invasion of Iraq and his neocon theory of using U.S. military force to remake the Middle East. As hubristic and crazy as that agenda may appear in retrospect, it was Washington’s conventional wisdom well into 2005 and arguably later.

During that time, the Post’s editorial page made a particular point of demeaning apostates from the Establishment, like former Ambassador Joseph Wilson, who broke ranks and challenged the basis for the Iraq invasion. [See, for instance, Consortiumnews.com’s “WPost’s Editorial Fantasyland.”]

Given all this, you might have thought that President-elect Obama would show distrust of this discredited crowd – and seek out new faces.

Or, at least you might have thought that Obama would carefully pick through the Establishment seeking the few Wise Men (and Women) who had resisted the reckless and feckless conventional wisdom. You might have thought he meant what he said about changing “the mindset” that led to the Iraq War.

But that does not now appear to be the case. Obama seems intent on rewarding those who carefully kept their seats at the Establishment’s dinner table during the Bush years, while leaving out in the cold those who truly put country first and accepted outcast status rather than collaborate with the power structure on a misbegotten war.

There is an old truism in Washington: There’s no honor in being right too soon; people just remember that you were out of step and crazy.

The only high-level exception in the Obama transition may be retired Marine Gen. James Jones, who is said to be in line for White House national security adviser. Though no liberal, Jones opposed the Iraq War, representing a faction of the military brass who challenged neocon ideologues, like Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, over casually wanting to send young American soldiers and Marines into poorly conceived wars.

Distasteful Choice

As disappointing – and even distasteful – as Obama’s personnel strategy may be, his thinking may be realistic, though cynical. He may be calculating that the success of his presidency depends on his ability to co-opt the Washington Establishment or at least lessen its hostility.

In other words, the self-absorbed Washington Establishment may be totally wrongheaded, but it is no doubt influential. When a political figure gets on its bad side – like, for instance, “know-it-all” Al Gore in Campaign 2000 – the target faces an open season of withering ridicule. [For examples on Gore, see our book, Neck Deep.]

The Washington Establishment’s contempt for Bill Clinton also was a factor in how embattled his presidency was during its eight years and how modest his accomplishments, including his failure to enact a national health care plan.

In 1998, after the Monica Lewinsky sex scandal broke, Washington Post society columnist (and Georgetown doyenne) Sally Quinn explained the source of the anti-Clinton hostility, tracing it back to a line in Clinton’s First Inaugural Address in 1993.

Quinn wrote that Clinton had insulted the Washington Establishment when he described the capital as “a place of intrigue and calculation [where] powerful people maneuver for position and worry endlessly about who is in and who is out, who is up and who is down, forgetting those people whose toil and sweat sends us here and pays our way.”

Though Clinton’s comment was undeniably true, it got under the skin of the thin-skinned Establishment and deepened into a burning anger over the next several years. The Post and much of the mainstream press joined the Republicans and the right-wing media in a steady drumbeat of accusations challenging the ethics of the Clintons and their associates.

When Clinton’s sexual dalliance with Monica Lewinsky surfaced in 1998, Quinn wrote that the insider community wanted Clinton to pack up immediately and leave town.

“Privately, many in Establishment Washington would like to see Bill Clinton resign and spare the country, the Presidency and the city any more humiliation,” Quinn wrote.

Beyond this example of the Establishment’s unbridled self-importance – sitting in judgment of a twice-elected President – there also was the hypocrisy, since many Washington power brokers have dabbled in extramarital sex themselves, including Sally Quinn who had a notorious affair with Post executive editor Ben Bradlee, breaking up his first marriage.

Nevertheless, Obama may be thinking that it’s better to accommodate the Washington Establishment on a touchy point like the Iraq War than to offend the Post’s editorial writers and the many well-connected guests attending Georgetown dinner parties this holiday season.

So, instead of cocktail chatter about Obama bringing in some dreaded “outsiders” who feel they know better than “us,” there will be polite conversation about how Obama is getting off on the right foot by not challenging the ways of Washington and by keeping soft-spoken favorite Robert Gates. [For more on Gates, see Consortiumnews.com’s “The Danger of Keeping Robert Gates” and “Robert Gates: As Bad as Rumsfeld?”]

The trade-off is a dicey one, but Obama may feel it is worth the risk if he buys some time for pushing through a domestic agenda, including a major economic stimulus package, infrastructure rebuilding, a new generation of “green” jobs, and national health insurance.

As undeserving as the Washington Establishment may be, Obama may want these pooh-bahs in the tent pissing out rather than the other possibility.

Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. He founded Consortium News in 1995.

9 comments for “25 YEARS OF CN: The Establishment’s Thanksgiving—Nov. 29, 2008

  1. robert e williamson jr
    November 27, 2020 at 15:09

    We hear lots of talk about heroes these days, Mr. Parry is greatly missed by those who he touched.

    Best for all of us if his memory is never lost.

  2. November 26, 2020 at 19:27

    I miss Parry and Gary Webb

  3. robert e williamson jr
    November 26, 2020 at 18:31

    I’m hoping for some guidance if I’m completely missing something here. This as it appears to me to be a completely matching set of realities that seems to be totally ignored as THE source of many of the planets economic issues. Two issues that the lame stream media seems to love to confuse even more.

    If the ICIJ and it’s staff can wield the influence to ferret out evil doers who make up the Off-Shore illegal banking industry is it too much to ask of the IRS to investigate and prosecute? Off shore banking is unfettered capitalism and we have the proof that it incubates high crimes.

    I posit we can even demand action from the IRS and it will not come until the IRS is sufficiently funded. If we have the funds to pursue illegal endless wars we have the funds to support the IRS. What stands in the way? I say it is the banking – wall street lobby. a group that always outlives four or eight years of any administrations efforts to attack this problem.

    Why isn’t the IRS funded similar to the CIA and the military? The US has the money and the masses need the help.

    Citizens United must be overturned, yet we hear nothing. Why not?

    I’ll tell you why. The Corporate world in America controls all the wealth it needs to out maneuver and over power the will of the people. If this is not address now we are toast.

    I have submitted a couple of comments in the last couple of days and I notices they didn’t make it to the comments section.

    I strongly believe the terms used to describe both the Neo-con, conservatives and neo-liberal laissez faire economics cause massive confusion to those not familiar to the topics involved here. Hence no grass roots call for the end of both in this country.

    Believe me it has given and still give me night-mares I’m to the point I need some profession help dealing with this absolutely obvious conflict created in individual minds.

    Then again it may be my total misunderstanding of that of which I write. Either way I’m pissed about what I see as a totally obvious conflict perpetuated by our counterfeit two party system and no one seems interested or cares.

    Embracing the republicans without thoroughly publicly lashing them first is a big mistake. If anyone is thinking they will not make demos pay at the first chance they get they are fools.

    Hunter S Thompson wrote : Songs of the Doomed: More Notes on the End of the American Dream in 1990 now it’s back in print. I suggest y’all think about this for a bit.

    Hundreds of thousands of dead Americans cannot be a good thing. And Grampa Joe wants to kiss and make-up.

    No second term for you Joe and Mitch will be right back in business.

    My DOG you cannot make this stuff up.

  4. David Otness
    November 26, 2020 at 18:04

    Ah, Sweet Prince—
    So good to see his wisdom and clarity shining further forth, Mr Parry a man for the People. Always.
    I am reminded of my own much less venerable and astute perceptions of this particular moment in time as if yesterday. Crestfallen and bitterly disappointed as the CitiBank parade of Mr Hope and Change were trotted out as if from an organic copying machine, a 3D printer if you will.
    Tom Daschle provided the only highlight of that bunch of grifters for me, and only because he withdrew as nominee for H&HS Secretary due to the small matter of ‘forgetting’ to pay his taxes for a number of years. Daschle was the consummate smooth-talking Dem schmoozer and his pinnacle achievement was turning South Dakota into Usury West, a job Delaware (Biden) was apparently OK with.

    Yep, the day the music died, when Obama’s ignoble court was convened as ‘his’ Cabinet. I saw the elephant that day, and my view of the U.S. American political charade was forever changed. And now as this current unveiling continues I see no reason to change my 2008 assessment.
    The fix is in, the table is tilted, the waiters have spit in all of the salads. Yes indeed, we are right back to normal. My only question is: did we ever actually leave?

    Thanks for running these Robert Parry articles again. I think it a nice feature and certainly look forward to more.

    Best regards, djo

  5. Sr. Gibbonk
    November 26, 2020 at 16:03

    Obama, the Great Accommodater! Wall Street MIC they called him, or should have. “My administration is the only thing between you and the pitchforks” he told the banksters. “Surge on if it please you” he told the generals. Now, four years after leaving office, his hand picked successor and former VP is busy reconstituting The Obama Years. But the public is not singing “Hope and change are here again!”. As the poet said “Twice duped is too much”. Rather, the majority that voted for Biden are breathing a sigh of relief that the dangerously deluded and incompetent narcissist Trump will be leaving the Oval Office. Make no mistake though, the demographic that swung the election in Biden’s favor is the corona virus. Yes, those untold trillions of malicious RNA robots turned the world upside down and in so doing laid bare Trump’s utter incompetence. Astoundingly, he still won 48% of the popular vote! Of course, the real and perpetual winner of the presidential election is Business As Usual. And all the while climate change and the increasing threat of nuclear war are bearing down on us. RIP Robert Parry.

  6. November 26, 2020 at 14:33

    I miss Parry

  7. Pablo Diablo
    November 26, 2020 at 10:29

    Clinton was able to accomplish what the Republicans could not under mean-spirited Reagan/Bush with his “I feel your pain”. He got a crime bill, got rid of “Glass Stegal”, changed Welfare, etc. Also, by impeaching him, they hoped to discredit the Special Prosecutor once and for all after the incredible disaster of Iran/Contra. Then we get “HOPE AND CHANGE” with Obama. What changed???
    With no change, the USA went for Trump and his promise to :drain the swamp”. He drained the swamp and moved the rats into the White House. Now, we are supposed to be happy with Biden and a “return to normalcy”. It seems (since Nixon) to go back and forth between asshole Republicans and nice-guy Democrats using the cover of partisanship to make sure nothing changes the status quo, where the Dems and Repubs keep raking in the money. Corporate power likes it that way.

  8. November 26, 2020 at 10:24

    Great article and so relevant to today. Sadly, the last paragraph sings a song of hope and change that never materialized because we came to understand that Obama was really one of them and never intended to implement a bold domestic (or foreign) agenda. But it was worth hoping for. 2020 feels like deja vu. As we watch the Biden/Clinton/Obama cabal plan their return to the White House, there are those still singing the song of hope and change. After being fooled once, I cannot join that chorus.

  9. Ed Rickert
    November 26, 2020 at 08:40

    As usual Parry was on the mark capturing the phony hope and chance of the hollow man. The article is also prescient considering that Obama’s VP and now President-elect seems intent on following in Obama’s footsteps, again reaching out across the aisle to Republicans and a possible cabinet position.

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