THE 20 MOST INFLUENTIAL LIBERALS...SHEEESH...NO WONDER THE COUNTRY IS IN TROUBLE...WITH MAYBE ONE OR TWO EXCEPTIONS THEY ARE A COMBINATION OF LIARS, CHEATS, INCOMPETENTS, CRIMINALS AND PERVERTS.
1. Barack Obama (6 on the 2007 list)
The Harvard graduate who grew up in Hawaii and Indonesia the son of a black father who deserted the family and a white mother who moved to Indonesia and left him in the care of his grandparents ran a masterful and truly historic presidential campaign. Going from state senator to President in four years was a remarkable achievement. His magnificent speeches captured the imagination of his nation and – perhaps even more so – the world. Last January, the words ‘hope” and “change” were on everyone’s lips as he stood on the steps of the Capitol and was sworn in on a frigid morning when it seemed anything was possible.
In the past year, however, Obama’s brand has been tarnished, perhaps irrevocably. His promises of bipartisanship have come to naught as the Democrats rammed through a party-line vote on healthcare. Never has such fundamental legislation been passed on the say so of one party when the country so clearly opposes it. The strategy is a dangerous gamble and it remains to be seen whether Obama can pull it off. Having ridiculed Bush for pursuing the “politics of fear”, Obama has had a rude awakening as he has listened to the daily intelligence reports and – on Christmas Day – was at the top of a national security apparatus that left America open to an al-Qaeda attack. Obama’s poll ratings now hover around 50 per cent – a remarkable slump. Even his famous ability to craft memorable phrases and formulate almost lyrical rhetoric now seems to be deserting him as inspiration gives way to perspiration. It is far, far too early to write Obama off. He could yet prove all his detractors wrong. But 2010 will bring the moment of truth for him.
2. Hillary Clinton (4)
Secretary of State
The supposedly “inevitable” Democratic nominee in 2008, the former First Lady blew it spectacularly. Her chief strategist Mark Penn – so seemingly omniscient in 2007 that he made number two on our list – made the disastrous decision to advise her to run on her experience in what in hindsight was obviously going to be a “change” election race. If she had run at least partly on the notion of making history as the first woman president, she would have dampened down the sense of entitlement and riding on the coattails of her husband that eventually doomed her bid. This year, Penn does not even make our list – Clinton fired him and it emerged he was unfamiliar even with the basic arithmetic of how delegate counts worked.
By the time the Clinton campaign woke up, the nomination was already lost to Obama. But Clinton fought like a tigress and embarrassed Obama, who limped over the finishing line. And Clinton’s critique of Obama is increasingly resonant. In February 2008, she said: “Now, I could stand up here and say let’s just get everybody together, lets get unified...the sky will open, the light will come down celestial choirs will be singing, and everyone will know that we should do the right thing and the world will be perfect. Maybe I'm just lived a little long but I have no illusions about how hard this will be." Clinton debated long and hard whether to leave the Senate to become Obama’s Secretary of State. Accepting was a masterstroke. She has removed herself from the contentious domestic arena and has bolstered her foreign policy credentials immeasurably. In loyally backing Obama, she has begun to outshine him and her popularity ratings have soared. She has said she will never run for the White House again but it is our judgement that she will be a powerful presidential candidate in 2012 – and could well become the first female president.
3. Nancy Pelosi (5)
Speaker of the House
The third most powerful politician in the United States – she would ascend to the presidency if Obama and Joe Biden died together in office - and the highest-ranking female politician in American history, Pelosi is the go-to Democrat in Congress. So far, Obama has had plenty to thank her for - getting healthcare through the House of Representatives with a “public option” of government insurance intact and passing the stimulus and cap-and-trade legislation, albeit by just five votes. It sometimes appears she views Obama as something of an ingénue.
Her “Hundred Days” initiative at the beginning of the current Congress saw Democrats use their large majority to approve a raise in minimum wage, the remaining 9/11 commission recommendations, public disclosure of representatives’ pet projects and major ethics legislation that outright banned gifts and meals from lobbyists and restricted travel from outside groups.
Often denigrated as a San Francisco liberal by the Right, she has shown she can put her convictions to one side as Speaker and followed a pragmatic course when necessary. Not afraid to bring the Left-wing to heel, she persuaded liberals to vote for the healthcare bill despite Bart Stupak’s amendment restricting access to abortions, arguing that an imperfect bill was better than none. A mother of five, she was raised in Baltimore’s Little Italy. Her family was steeped in local Democratic Party politics and it rubbed off. Pelosi is a tireless fundraiser and forceful campaigner. She forged a strong anti-Bush message in 2006 that contributed to the Democrats’ emphatic victory. Finding a message for the 2010 mid-terms will be more of challenge, but her many detractors underestimate her at their peril.
4. Bill Clinton (1)
He battled tirelessly for his wife, holding sometimes six or seven rallies a day in small towns across South Carolina and North Carolina. But Bill Clinton’s fabled political instincts deserted him at times as he allowed the Obama campaign to be able to seize on his language and suggest he was playing the “race card” – without ever getting the Obama campaign’s fingerprints on the accusation. The red-faced, angry Bill Clinton ultimately did not serve his wife’s campaign well. But when she was offered the Secretary of State’s job, he agreed to moderate his activities around the world and disclose the sources of his foundation’s funds and he has been true to his word. As Obama’s presidency has faltered, Democrats have begun to look back to the Clinton years with increasing fondness. Though Clinton has been uncharacteristically silent, one suspects that he is saying to himself: “I told you so.”
Allegations in a recent book last week that he had conducted a romantic affair during the 2008 campaign caused little stir – an indication that Americans have moved beyond obsessing over Bill Clinton’s private life. As a pragmatic, centrist Democrat who understood politics from his gut as well as his brain, Clinton could yet provide the template for the next generation of Democratic leaders in the post-Obama era. Alternatively, he could help elect his wife in 2012. In many respects, it is far too early to speculate about such things. One thing, however, is certain – Bill Clinton is not going away.
5. Rahm Emanuel (13)
Intense, obsessive, profane, mercurial and driven, Rahm Emanuel is the cauldron to Obama’s cool. The former Democratic operative, Clinton staffer, House leader and millionaire investment banker has brought executive experience and a brash Chicago toughness to the White House as Obama’s chief of staff. Stories about “Rahmbo” are everywhere, from the time he sent a dead fish to a pollster who had crossed him to his relentless pursuit of potential Democratic candidates on the way to the party re-taking the House under his direction in 2006. The son of an Irgun veteran who fought the British in Palestine, Emanuel volunteered on an Israeli army supply base during the Gulf War before joining the Clinton campaign in 1992.
A brilliant fundraiser who was destined to eventually become House Speaker before he joined the Obama administration, it is unclear what the future holds for Emanuel. The White House has been far from the smooth “no drama” Obama campaign with leaks abounding and Emanuel suspected as having originated many of them. True, governing is very different from campaigning and every White House eventually becomes fractured and factionalised but some question whether Emanuel is controlling things as he should. There have been rumours he wants to run for Mayor of Chicago in 2011, a job he has coveted since boyhood. Lower profile than he was six months ago, Emanuel has not been as effective in pushing Obama’s agenda on Capitol Hill as some expected he would be. Emanuel, however, will undoubtedly remain a power to be reckoned with.
6. Al Gore (2)
Former Vice President, environmental campaigner
Without doubt the most influential voice on climate policy, Gore has engineered an astonishing turnaround since the body blow of losing to George W Bush in the 2000 presidential election despite winning the popular vote. He has also become exceedingly rich, with his personal fortune rising from $2 million to an estimated $96 million since he quit mainstream politics.
Accused of a massive conflict of interest because of his investments in green technology, Gore has countered that the majority of his business activity is not environmental, while every cent of such profit has gone into his foundation, the Alliance for Climate Protection. A bogeyman for climate change sceptics, the amount of electricity used in his Nashville home has also come under the microscope and the former veep was embarrassed when Irish documentary maker Phelim McAleer recently confronted him.
The High Court in London, assessing whether or not his Oscar-winning film An Inconvenient Truth should be shown in schools, found nine examples of factual inaccuracy made in “the context of alarmism and exaggeration”. None of this has made much of a dent in the Nobel Prize winner’s global reputation, however. Once expected to take an official advisory role to the Obama administration, he has instead remained above the fray.
Obama’s climate change “czar” Carol Browner is an old Gore protégé who served as the head of Environmental Protection Agency when he was vice-president, so his input into policy remains. She has already moved to tighten the federal government’s ability to impose restrictions on emissions. Both face an uphill task, however, to persuade the Senate to pass a cap-and-trade bill in the middle of recession.
7. Oprah Winfrey (9)
Talk show host
Some believe that the Queen of Talk is already the most influential person in the world. But Oprah, 55, upped her political influence cred, when she announced her endorsement in 2006 for Barack Obama, caling him “the One” - the first time she has ever endorsed a political candidate. Oprah appeared for her candidate at a primary campaign in South Carolina but it remains unclear whether it was she or President Bill Clinton’s perceived racial slights that delivered the landslide in the Palmetto State. One analysis credits her with garnering at least one million votes for Obama in the general election.
In November, Oprah reminded viewers on a show with guest Sarah Palin that she publicly had supported Obama for President. But when she asked Palin if she planned to replace her as the world’s most watched chat show host, Palin demurred, shrieking “You’re the queen, Oprah!” The following week, Oprah announced the decision to end the Oprah Winfrey Show as she expands her kingdom from Harpo Productions to her very own cable network---the Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN) - a move that will give the billionaire even more content control on the airwaves.
8. Tim Geithner (Did not appear on the 2007 list)
Overcoming the predictions of some and the hopes of others, Geithner has survived his first year. Complaints have come from both Left and Right: that he was too cosy with Wall Street, shouldn’t have let Lehmann Brothers fail and gave away too much tax payer money to the banks. All this criticism has been tempered by the fact that he has been confronted by the gravest challenge anyone holding his job has faced for 70 years. The economy was – and is - in the doldrums and the financial system was close to calamity, if not outright collapse when he was promoted from the chairmanship of the New York federal reserve.
Geithner had already played a leading role in structuring the $700 billion bailout agreed late in George W Bush’s term before he took the lead in devising the record $787 billion stimulus bill in the first months of the new administration. Early on he attracted negative comments for his unsure performances and at times rabbit-in-the-headlights demeanour, not to mention messing up his tax returns when at the IMF.
With a little time and Obama’s faith, his confidence in public has grown, while the message that Main Street is furious about how quickly Wall Street has returned to profits and handsome bonuses is finally getting through. Regulatory reform is grinding through Congress and a bank tax to recover lost tax revenue is under consideration. Perhaps more than anyone in government bar the president, Geithner’s decision-making will affect not just the country’s well being, but his boss’s political health.
9. David Axelrod (68)
White House Senior Advisor
The affable and disheveled Axelrod has managed to come through Obama’s first year with his reputation as one of the political scene’s nice guys relatively intact. Nonetheless, his easy-going manner and willingness to talk to the media may not be able to suppress concerns that he is simply reprising the nefarious - if not Machiavellian - White House consigliere role that has become so tainted over the years.
Officially his mission is to offer advice and protect and transmit the Obama message. As problems have mounted he has been used more and more frequently, particularly to respond to critics of healthcare. Karl Rove comparisons are the last he would welcome, but Axelrod attends National Security Council meetings, convenes weekly policy sessions and is intimately involved in devising retaliations against Right-wing critics such as Rush Limbaugh and Dick Cheney. He also delivers polling news to the president and is outranked only by his friend Rahm Emanuel, the chief of staff.
Since the 2008 campaign started he has been a pillar of the Obama team. Axelrod once said, “If I could help to get Obama to Washington, then I would have accomplished something great in my life”. Whatever fire control he does between now and 2012, as things stand keeping Obama in the capital will be a substantial challenge too.
10. Harry Reid (33)
Senate Majority Leader
The son of an alcoholic miner from Searchlight, Nevada, Reid became the master of the Senate after Democrats won both houses of Congress in 2006. Two years later, he found himself sitting on a filibuster-proof 60 to 40 majority with a President determined to ram home the Democratic agenda.
He spearheaded an ambitious agenda, including the $787 billion economic stimulus package enacted in February 2009, healthcare reform and drawing down troops from an Iraq war that Reid declared “lost” in April 2007 even as President George W. Bush’s surge was succeeding and bringing relative peace to the country. Reid, a Mormon, is a relative moderate but has become a hate figure for conservatives for his withering attacks on Republicans – he compared those who opposed healthcare reform to those who had wanted to keep slavery.
Although he has brought back lots of “bacon” to Nevada and kept nuclear waste out of the state’s Yucca Mountain site, his poll ratings back home are terrible. Now fighting for his political life, he suffered a self-inflicted wound last week when it emerged that he had described Obama two years ago as politically viable because he was “light-skinned" and had “no Negro dialect, unless he wanted to have one." The real damage might not be not that many consider him racist but that he sounded anachronistic and out of touch. Get ready for the mother of all Senate races in Nevada – though the Republicans have yet to settle on an opponent – as liberals and conservatives pour cash into the state for what will become a grudge match.
11. Michelle Obama (48)
Michelle Obama is the first black First Lady in American history but the Princeton and Harvard Law graduate has made it a point to publicly state her top White House priority as being a good mother to daughters Malia and Sasha. That announcement ruffled the liberal feathers of some who might have seen her taking on a more aggressive policy role as Hillary Clinton once did. And despite some early campaign mistakes - such as commenting that her husband’s election made her proud to be an American for the first time in her life - her focus on affordable fashion, healthy eating underscored by an organic garden on the White House lawn, and a more accessible personal style has endeared her to Americans and the world. She received rave reviews for her genuine, informal style on a UK trip – including a welcomed breach of Royal protocol by touching the Queen - where she visited a girls’ school in London’s East End.
Mrs Obama also has met American military families frequently and has worked hard to encourage the tradition of public service in the US. But it hasn’t all been First Lady Lite. Passionate on the issue of healthcare reform, last summer she addressed a meeting of health-care workers at a Washington, D.C. clinic stating, "The current system is economically unsustainable, and I don’t have to tell any of you that."
12. Arianna Huffington (16)
publisher of Huffington Post
Greek-born Arianna Huffington has been a California gubernatorial candidate, author, talk show host, actress, and political commentator. But it is as publisher of the Huffington Post, launched in 2005, that this political chameleon has been thrust into the most influential role of her life. Last year, Huffington was number 12 in Forbes magazine’s premiere list of the Most Influential Women In Media. A top destination for high-profile bloggers - many of them are Huffington’s friends - the Huff Post, as it is known, provides coverage of world news, politics, media, business, entertainment, and style from a progressive point of view. In the past few years, Huffington’s stances have been to the Left of the Democratic party and she was strongly pro-Obama in the 2008 campaign. Since he came to office, however, she has often criticised him for being too centrist.
13. Sonia Sotomayor (-)
Supreme Court Justice
The first Latino and the third woman to be nominated to the US Supreme Court, Sotomayor took her seat on the nation’s highest bench in August of last year after a far less contentious confirmation process than many had anticipated. A frequent speech giver and strong advocate of Hispanic and minority rights, her toughest questioning came over a remark in a speech about the superiority of the "wise Latina", which produced outrage among some Republicans over potential identity- based judicial decision-making. But Sotomayor backed off her statement, describing it as "a rhetorical flourish that fell flat" and rejecting the notion that any group “has an advantage in sound judgment" over another.
One of her main detractors on the Senate Judiciary Committee, Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, concluded that Sotomayor’s judicial decisions were not outside the mainstream and complimented her on her success in the legal profession suggesting that might she even be open-minded enough to support finding a fundamental right to possess firearms under the Constitution - a right she might not want for herself. Will be shaping the law long after Obama has retired from politics.
14. Denis McDonough (-)
Acting Chief of Staff, National Security Council
McDonough has emerged as a major voice within the White House and was a key player in the eventual decision to spend 30,000 more American troops to Afghanistan. A foreign policy adviser to former Senate majority leader Tom Daschle, and one of several ex-Daschle staffers to join Obama early on, he was a senior fellow at the liberal Centre for American Progress think tank, which has seen a major exodus to the administration.
He is trusted as a commonsense voice but fellow traveller with the president on issues such as poverty and global warming. He also opposed the Iraq war from the start, and was among Obama’s foremost foreign policy advisers on the campaign. Starting life in the White House as NSC communications director, where he helped write major foreign policy speeches for the president, he was a natural choice to replace Mark Lippert who left the administration for US Naval Reserve duty. In on all the important decisions, expect McDonagh to rise and rise within the Obama administration.
15. Janet Napolitano (-)
Secretary of Homeland Security
Valued by Democrats for her management skills developed as a former Governor of Arizona, Arizona Attorney General and law firm partner, Napolitano was a popular party choice for Secretary of Homeland Security, made up of 22 separate agencies with the main mission of preventing terrorist attacks against the US – despite her lack of any national security credentials. But her comment the day after the Christmas Day terrorist attempt on a plane bound for Detroit that “the system worked” led to widespread ridicule – she will be saddled with it forever. Despite the call for heads to roll, Obama has stood by Napolitano and everyone else on his team. Nicknamed “Big Sis” by conservatives, she is a big Republican target.
16. Mark Warner (22)
Senator for Virginia
Fresh-faced, wealthy rich, personable and a moderate from a purple state with a successful spell as Governor under his belt, Mark Warner could well be the next Democratic president. In 2008 he took the Senate seat vacated by Republican John Warner (no relation), after flirting with a presidential run. He had left office as governor of Virginia with 70 per cent approval ratings, having put the state on course to fiscal stability with various indirect tax rises.
He was an early supporter of Barack Obama, sharing the president’s call for a new civility in politics. “The challenges we face are much more about the future versus the past and as long as we face that future and avoid the political divisions of the past, there is nothing we can't accomplish as Americans first and foremost," he said in his acceptance speech. More moderate than Obama, watch to see if Warner distances himself from the President. He would be a likely vice-presidential candidate should Biden’s services be dispensed with in 2012 (though Democrats would not want a special Senate election in Virginia). A lacklustre speech at the 2008 Democratic convention, however, showed he may need to work on his big stage skills.
17. Robert Gibbs (-)
White House Press Secretary
A journeyman Senate aide who became a trusted Obama campaign hand when he lucked out by landing on Barack Obama’s Senate race in 2004. Gibbs, just 38, is unusual as a press secretary because he is a bona fide member of the Obama inner circle of five or so confidants. He has been described by the Washington Post as “the Barack Whisperer”. The Alabaman is highly partisan and can be very aggressive when reporters get on the wrong side of him – some were banned from the campaign plane in 2008.
A sports nuts – one of the ways he bonded with Obama – he loves baseball and basketball metaphors. When Fox News’s Sean Hannity suggested “guilty by association” regarding Obama’s connection to Bill Ayers, the former Weather Underground co-founder, Gibbs asked Hannity whether having an anti-Semite on his show made him anti-Semitic. It was an impressive performance and briefly had the voluble Hannity stumped. Few effective press secretaries are especially liked by the press and Gibbs is no exception. Some, however, believe he takes defending his boss too far and warn that he could lose the trust of the media that played such a big part in getting Obama elected.
18. Barney Frank (31)
Regarded by Democrats as one of their biggest stars in the House and the only politician who truly understands what went wrong in the subprime mortgage debacle. Republicans grudgingly respect his intellect and combative spirit. Frank, Massachusetts’ 4th Congressional District representative since 1980, has been a consistently ultra-liberal voice in Washington. He came to real national prominence in 2008 after his leading role in getting Congress to pass the controversial $700 billion financial rescue package, which allowed the US Treasury to buy up bad mortgage securities in an effort to stimulate financial credit. Republicans noted that Frank’s boyfriend had been a Fannie Mae executive at the forefront of the agency’s push to relax lending restrictions. Heavy criticism was levied at Frank, Chairman of the House Financial Services Committee since 2007, for supporting the bailout package. Frank has suggested suing the insurance giant AIG to recoup millions of dollars in executive bonuses.
Frank was the first openly gay member of the House when he arrived in 1981 and has been an outspoken advocate of gay rights. In 1991, he received an official reprimand for reflecting "discredit upon the House" after paying a male prostitute for sex and later making him a personal aide and moving him into his house. Frank is regarded as one of the Congress’s sharpest wits and most eloquent speakers. When a constituent at a town hall meeting in Dartmouth, Massachusetts asked him why he was “supporting this Nazi policy” on healthcare he responded: “On what planet do you spend most of your time?" Before continuing that she was spewing "vile, contemptible nonsense", he concluded: “Trying to have a conversation with you would be like arguing with a dining room table."
19. John Kerry (37)
Senator for Massachusetts
Was angling to be Secretary of State but Obama turned to Hillary Clinton. Instead, he had to settle for Joe Biden’s old job of chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee – an ideal post for the verbose and self-regarding Kerry.
Apart from pushing the administration’s overseas agenda in Congress, Kerry was called in to broker a deal in Afghanistan between Hamid Karzai and his election rivals. The fact that Obama turned to him was a testament to his background, experience and contacts in the international sphere – and won him many brownie points in Obamaland. Democrats seldom treat losing presidential candidates well and Kerry has suffered for his 2004 loss. Despite endorsing Obama at a critical early stage just before the South Carolina primary, he got no big job in the administration but would be a natural pick to succeed Clinton in a second Obama term.
After five Senate terms, his self-declared great mission is reversing climate change. “There is no way possible for the US to be secure against terrorism unless we free ourselves from fossil fuel,” he said in 2008. But he has his work cut out in pushing energy reform through the Senate.
20. Eric Holder (-)
It has been a momentous first year for the nation’s top legal officer. In selecting to prosecute Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and other 9/11 suspects in New York he invited storms of protest from Republicans, though not, so far, from a majority of New Yorkers themselves.
His tenure has been marked by the tricky act of balancing Obama’s campaign commitments to openness with the hard realities of national security. In contrast to the terror trial decision, a stack of new photographs of prisoner abuse by US military personnel will not be shown to the public and Bush-era CIA interrogators will not be prosecuted – as many on the Left demand. Holder is no stranger to controversy, having faced fierce criticism for pardoning the fugitive Marc Rich in the final days of Bill Clinton’s presidency, when he was deputy attorney general. His experience then led him to state he was “done with public office”, but he always coveted the top Justice job and Obama plucked him from private practice to become America’s first black Attorney General.
His decision to put the 9/11 suspects through the criminal justice system had Obama’s full support but could be a public relations disaster waiting to happen. Anything short of the maximum sentences will play badly with the public, particularly in the wake of the underwear bomber’s botched attempt to blow up a flight to Detroit. If any of the defendants walk free then Obama could be rendered a one-term president virtually overnight.
Lists compiled by the Telegraph staff in Washington – Toby Harnden, Alex Spillius, Rachel Ray, Andrea Viola and Meghan Cassin.