Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Obama Choice of HUD Secretary Astounds Public

In a bold move that took both supporters and critics by surprise, President-elect Barack Obama nominated outgoing President George W. Bush to the position of Secretary of Housing and Urban Development. Although some saw it as an extreme example of Obama following the Lincoln strategy of assembling a “team of rivals” in his Cabinet, the actual motivations appear more mundane. First, Democratic activists were increasingly worried about being able to hold their coalition together without having Bush to criticize. Putting him in charge of the Agency that has been caught flat-footed by the housing bubble guarantees an unlimited supply of news stories and Congressional hearings to continually remind the public that everything that goes wrong is still Bush's fault. Second, the housing market is so thoroughly damaged that there is little risk that Bush could make it any worse. Finally, HUD has officially been designated as the holding area for officials who are awaiting indictment. Previous HUD Secretary under George W. Bush, Alphonso Jackson, resigned in May of this year amid charges that he used his influence to steer lucrative work to a Philadelphia business partner. Henry Cisneros, HUD Secretary under Bill Clinton, served under the cloud of a special prosecutor investigation of payments he made to a former mistress. Finally, Samuel Pierce, HUD secretary under Ronald Reagan, escaped indictment but presided over a scandal-ridden agency where programs of rent-subsidies were widely abused to support political contributors. Said one Obama insider, “I think the President–elect felt it was important to show that mismanaging HUD isn’t just a minority thing.”

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