The Telegraph -
The most influential
The final instalment of Telegraph.co.uk's list of the liberals who most influence American politics.
Editor Harnden, US
These are not lists that rank ideological purity – the number one liberal will not necessarily be any more liberal than number 100 – but they will inevitably discriminate against centrists, technocrats, independents and fence-sitters.
1. Barack Obama (6 on the 2007 list)
The Harvard graduate who grew up in
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
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 –
By the time the
3. Nancy Pelosi (5)
Speaker of the House
The third most powerful politician in the
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
4. Bill Clinton (1)
He battled tirelessly for his wife, holding sometimes six or seven rallies a day in small towns across
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,
5. Rahm Emanuel (13)
Intense, obsessive, profane, mercurial and driven, Rahm Emanuel is the cauldron to Obama’s cool. The former Democratic operative,
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
The High Court in
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
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
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
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
10. Harry Reid (33)
Senate Majority Leader
The son of an alcoholic miner from Searchlight,
He spearheaded an ambitious agenda, including the $787 billion economic stimulus package enacted in February 2009, healthcare reform and drawing down troops from an
Although he has brought back lots of “bacon” to
11. Michelle Obama (48)
Michelle Obama is the first black First Lady in American history but the
Mrs Obama also has met American military families frequently and has worked hard to encourage the tradition of public service in the
12. Arianna Huffington (16)
publisher of Huffington Post
Greek-born Arianna Huffington has been a
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
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
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
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
16. Mark Warner (22)
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
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
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 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)
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
After five Senate terms, his self-declared great mission is reversing climate change. “There is no way possible for the
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
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
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
Lists compiled by the Telegraph staff in Washington – Toby Harnden, Alex Spillius, Rachel Ray, Andrea Viola and Meghan Cassin.