Notes from an Ex-political Hack

As an ex-press secretary on Capitol Hill during the first Clinton Administration, I really can’t pretend to offer any substantive comments on our next President—domestic policy, stimulus packages, Kim Jong-Il’s hairstyle—these are all beyond me.  I am long removed from day to day politics, and besides, press secretaries are really very shallow people.  We would spend all day trying to come up with press releases on primarily made-up political issues that we were hoping would get us a few positive paragraphs in the dailies.  The rest of the time we were looking for invitations to lobbyist lunches that both supplemented meager paychecks and also enabled us to have a few hard drinks with our steak frites, which in turn led to nice long afternoon naps under my cubicle.  Congressional offices have such nice, plush carpet.

I came to DC in January 1993 with the optimism and idealism of a 23- year-old following Bill Clinton.  Sure, he had some issues with Flowers and Jones, but he was a young Turk that represented something new—not radically new, but different nonetheless.  Al Gore seemed like a good guy too, despite his wife, Tipper, trying to censor music lyrics.  The 1993 Inaugural ceremony was exciting, and all of the Inaugural Balls (including a musical appearance from Marky Mark—wonder whatever happened to that guy, he would’ve made a decent actor) felt like a confirmation that there was a new era dawning—a younger generation that would do things differently and tackle issues like health care reform head on.  While I believe in retrospect that Billy C. did a good job in leading the free world (easier comparison these days because of his successor), my idealism started to wane early on:  fights day one around ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’; dead on arrival health care reform proposals from a guy named Ira Magaziner; and a contentious first budget that led to plenty of political payback.  By the summer of 1993, I began to understand that change comes at a different pace, grading on a curve, in our nation’s capital.  Of course, dry cleaning related issues of the Clinton administration were still a few years down the line.  I became a cliché and left DC after two years to get an MBA.

My cynical ex-politico roots shining through, in early 2007 I thought Barack Obama would ultimately go the way of the far less charismatic Howard Dean (endless loops of the ‘I have a scream’ speech in my head).  Sure, he was inspiring, really almost mesmerizing.  Clearly, a bright guy with ideas you could relate to, even if they weren’t quite fully formed yet.  But he was peaking too early.  Hillary Clinton had the support of the party brass, and really, who believed that an African American guy named Barack Obama could actually be elected President?  Taking a step back, before anyone had really heard of Barack Obama on the national stage, what do you think political experts and laypersons alike would’ve attached as the probability that he would have a serious shot at becoming President?

But here we are, in January 2009.  History has been made and if you don’t believe me, every media outlet, even reluctantly those that are fair/balanced, will remind you several times a day.  Optimism reins in full force despite remarkably dire times in the domestic economy and on the geopolitical stage.  Yes, the Obama honeymoon will inevitably dissipate soon, but regardless of your political leanings we should consider and appreciate the significant positives here.  First of all, Democrats throw much better parties than Republicans.  At the 2000 inaugural, I got stuck talking to Ben Stein for 45 minutes; very boring and he is way smarter than me so I had no idea what he was talking about.  In 1992, I hung out with Fleetwood Mac and got a decent glimpse of Michael Jackson (nose looked fine back then if you were wondering).  And, yes, after at least the last few years of hearing conventional wisdom at home and abroad proclaim the end of U.S. standing globally, Barack Obama represents a fresh start—in your face, rest of the world doubters.  Sure, it is easy to say that anybody replacing George W. would be a fresh start, but think about McCain or other candidates in the field being President; it isn’t remotely the same thing and we’d probably be stuck with Ben Stein all over again.  All in all, isn’t it amazing that the U.S. electorate voted for an African American who grew up in Hawaii and Indonesia?  We actually elected a guy with a middle name of Hussein during the war on terror.  Wow, what a country (sorry Red states).

Finally, I must also note that despite Sarah Palin’s attempts to convince me she is one of us, I think most of us are much more like Obama.  To this point, I did not, for example, think of naming my kids, Willow, Branch, Twig, or whatever her kids’ names are.  I’ve never hunted a moose.  I don’t look anything like Tina Fey.  I do, on the other hand, watch Sports Center, aspire for a decent jump shot, which our new President seems to have, and incessantly use my Blackberry.  I am, however, a little miffed he didn’t invite me personally to a big party in DC he threw for his new job.  I hear Miley Cyrus and the Jonas Brothers were playing.