Watching the election from India, I couldn’t help but be swept up a little in the hoopla of the big change. But now I’m starting to feel a bit betrayed. Obama’s choices for cabinet positions and his choice of Rick Warren to give the benediction at the inauguration range from being mildly irritating to continuing Washington business as usual, which in the current situation is practically suicidal.
First up, Rick Warren is an olive branch to the conservative Christians, and an insult to every intellectual and equal-rights advocate. The man supported Prop. 8 in California, has made public statements claiming same-sex marriage to be barely above polygamy, and whose presence makes a statement to the world that while America has started to deal with racial issues, there is no stomach to deal with human rights at this time. The other part of this which incenses me is what part of the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause doesn’t Obama understand? there shouldn’t be any religious part of the inauguration (nor should "in god we trust" be on the money, nor should there be chaplains on the military payroll, nor should there be any prayer in congress… but I digress). This is an insult to the secular nature of the republic, and to all of those who espouse secular values and don’t want to see the separation of church and state whittled down any more. Just because it has been a part of inaugurations before doesn’t make it right or good or just.
As for the Cabinet posts, I can accept Hillary Clinton taking the most important job in the world, and his energy secretary pick of Steven Chu (Nobel laureate, green energy advocate) seems fair enough, but Tom Vilsack is too close to the Corn lobby for comfort. While he has publicly come out in favor of reducing farm subsidies, I don’t think he’ll be so likely to do it, or to the extent necessary. While reforming the department into a more holistic "department of Food" as Michael Pollan suggested on WNYC’s Brian Lehrer show seems rather difficult, the agriculture department needs to throw itself free from the farm and processed food lobbies (and of course avoid moving too far the other direction), in order to get America on track. All of these siloed departments really need to work together to forge a path towards that utopia we need to imagine, otherwise we won’t get anywhere: Agriculture needs to work with Health and Human Services to improve nutrition; Agriculture should work with State to avoid undercutting developing countries’ economies by subsidizing American production of commodity crops which undercut production in other areas of the world. And for good measure, there should be an overarching environmental directorate to keep all of these fiefdoms in line. Without the future, the present has no value.
by the way, Charlie Rose is on WNET-13 (PBS) at 6AM in the New York area. Education during trainer time!