The Old Guard

Sam Alcoff Jan 21, 2013

Obama’s first-term cabinet gave a few celebrity politicians, like Hillary Clinton, the spotlight; for others, witness protection couldn’t have hidden them more. Here’s a look at some of greatest* hits from the Obama cabinet’s first four years.      


Secretary of State
Hillary Clinton (2009 – January 2013)

Before she was the First Lady, New York Senator and 2008 almost-nominee, Hillary Clinton played another role: during her time as Arkansas First Lady, she served on the board of mega-corporation Wal-Mart for six fruitful years. As Obama’s powerful secretary of state, Clinton called dictators friends (“I really consider [Egyptian] President and Mrs. Mubarak to be friends of my family,” she said in 2009); pushed for war in Libya after initially missing 2010’s Arab Spring (“We didn’t get off to such a great start with Egypt — let’s reverse that with Libya”); and endorsed military coups (initially questioning whether the Honduran military’s 2009 takeover fit the definition of a coup, then enthusiastically welcoming the country back into the international community). Many of Wal-Mart’s clothes are made in Honduras.

Secretary of Labor
Hilda Solis (2009 – January 2013)

Both Hilda Solis’s nomination and resignation as secretary of labor were met with met with warm and fuzzy press releases from the nation’s largest unions. It’s not surprising, because she basically gets the fight for workers’ rights (even if her boss doesn’t). Remember the huge standoff in Wisconsin over anti-union governor Scott Walker’s attack on public workers in 2011? As janitors and firemen occupied the state house, the New York Times reported, “When West Wing officials discovered that the Democratic National Committee had mobilized Mr. Obama’s national network to support the protests, they angrily reined in the staff at the party headquarters. Administration officials said they saw such events beyond Washington as distractions from the optimistic ‘win the future’ message Mr. Obama introduced with his State of the Union Address.” Solis’s reputation of fighting for worker’s rights gained nothing from an administration that wouldn’t lift a finger for the pro-worker Employee Free Choice Act while unions, public and private sector, shrink and grow weaker.

Secretary of Energy
Steven Chu (2009 — present)

Nobel Prize winner Chu has the respect of the scientific community and occasionally calls it as he sees it (saying in 2007, for example, “Coal is my worst nightmare”), but his lackluster leadership has promoted the misnomer “clean coal,” pushed nuclear power (even after Japan’s Fukushima disaster), wanly supported the controversial XL Tar Sands Pipeline, and been simply missing in action on global climate change. If he continues this way, Chu’s place in the history books will be as the one administration official who was smart enough to realize the dangers of global climate change, but did virtually nothing to mitigate the coming storm.

Secretary of the Treasury
Timothy Geithner (2009 – present)

Timothy Geither is so in lockstep with Wall Street that everyone is under the mistaken belief that he’s directly from Goldman Sachs (which tends to happen when you negotiate a secret $30 billion loan for an investment firm with negligible interest). From World Trade Organizations negotiations under Clinton in the 1990s to saving Wall Street after it cratered the economy, Geithner has protected banking interests under Democrats for decades now. Even the usually supportive New York Post was moved to comment, “If there’s a common thread to almost every bank bailout over the last 15 years, it’s that Timothy Geithner was always somewhere in the room.”

Secretary of Homeland Security
Janet Napolitano (2009 – present)

The Obama Administration has detained and deported a record number of undocumented immigrants, expelling around three quarters of a million people in 2011 and 2012 alone.

Secretary of the Interior
Ken Salazar (2009 – March 2013)

As senator, the conservative Democrat voted against measures such as increasing fuel standards, repealing tax breaks for ExxonMobil, and protecting the Florida coast from offshore drilling. As secretary, he upheld the Bush-era policy preventing the regulation of greenhouse gas emissions via the Endangered Species Act and has hewed close to the whims of mining, drilling, and ranching interests. Curiously, the one scandal that has affected him involves hundreds of wild horses, sold off to a known horse slaughterer for $10 apiece. When questioned about it late last year, Salazar told a reporter: “If you do that to me again, I’ll punch you out.”

Secretary of Education
Arne Duncan (2009 – present)

After eight long years of W. keeping public school teachers on edge, Duncan went out of his way to keep up the heat. Before heading to Washington, he pushed school privatization in Chicago; in 2010, when every teacher in a poorly performing Rhode Island high school was fired, he applauded the move as “courageous”; in 2012, 10 states were finally given waivers to the much-criticized Bush-era “No Child Left Behind” policy, but Obama’s similarly designed “Race to the Top” grants follow a similar painful path: treating education like a competition with winners and losers. Teachers are still on edge and students are still suffering.

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