Washington Babylon — January 26, 2009, 9:55 am

Bundling The Administration

I generally don’t trust my own reaction to political developments because my own views are too eclectic and non-representative to serve as any type of political weather vane. But I had dinner over the weekend with a group of friends and was surprised at the depth of their disappointment with the Obama administration’s key staff picks. This was a group of liberals, but well within the margins of mainstream opinion and almost all had enthusiastically supported Obama’s presidential bid.

You’d expect a general hostility towards Obama’s top economic appointments, like Larry Summers and Tim “I forgot to pay my taxes” Geithner, who are so closely tied to old failed policies. But then there was the environmental activist who was appalled by the choice of Ken Salazar at the Interior Department, and the education advocate who was furious that Linda Darling Hammond had been shut out at the Education Department, and the labor activist who described Jared Bernstein, named Chief Economic Policy Adviser to Joe Biden, as “our only lifeline.” (To which the education advocate replied, “We don’t have a lifeline.”)

Most of the people at the table didn’t believe that Obama and his team were making terrible picks, but they viewed many of his appointees as safe, non-controversial cronies who aren’t likely to bring any passion to the job.

So then I opened up my newspaper today and saw that Julianna Smoot has apparently been named Chief of Staff in the office of the US Trade Representative. Who is Julianna Smoot? Well, she’s known as the “700 million Dollar Woman” because she was a fundraising “bundler” who brought in so much money for Obama. (Note that the story I linked to here refers to her as the “$75 million woman,” but it was 2007 story and Smoot was just picking up steam.)

And here’s an excerpt from Smith Alumnae Quarterly, which has a few more details.

Working as a fundraiser for Sens. Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) and Richard Durbin (D-IL) and former Senate majority leader Tom Daschle laid the groundwork for Smoot to raise record sums of money for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, chaired by Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY), during the 2006 election cycle when the Democrats gained control of the Senate. “Julianna is at the top of her profession,” says political analyst Cutter. “The secret to Julianna is you don’t realize she’s asking until you’ve already given your money.”

Great, but what’s that got to do with trade policy?

The labor activist I mentioned was less enthusiastic, saying “She seems like a money person, not a trade person –not as bad as someone who is more knowledgeable and hostile, but it does seem odd that they aren’t looking for more trade expertise over there.”

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I sat in a taxi with Emma and her son, Stak, all three bodies muscled into the rear seat, and the boy checked the driver’s I.D. and immediately began to speak to the man in an unrecognizable language.

I conferred quietly with Emma, who said he was studying Pashto, privately, in his spare time. Afghani, she said, to enlighten me further.

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