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Germany Goes to...the Man from Goldman Sachs!

George W. Bush notoriously gave important ambassadorships to millionaire Republican campaign donors. Obama, rejecting the failed politics of the past, has insisted on a dramatic new policy shift: ambassadorships for millionaire Democratic campaign donors! That's change we can believe in:

President Barack Obama officially named one new ambassador nominee on Thursday: former Democratic National Committee finance chair and former Goldman Sachs executive Philip D. Murphy. He will represent U.S. interests in Germany. Murphy and his "homemaker" wife, Tammy, have contributed nearly $1.5 million to federal candidates, committees and parties since 1989, with 94 percent of that sum going to Democrats, according to a Center for Responsive Politics analysis. They also contributed an additional $100,000 to Obama's inauguration committee.

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Murphy worked for Goldman Sachs for 23 years, including heading its office in Frankfurt, Germany, from 1993 to 1997. (The bank has, more recently, also been on Capital Eye's radar for its politicking efforts and request for federal funds through the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP).) After leaving the Wall Street investment bank in 2006, Murphy served as the finance committee chair for the DNC until earlier this year.

Snark aside, I wonder whether these appointments are a big deal. Of course, they highlight the unseemly importance of money in American politics, but that's hardly news. But ambassadors are mainly there to schmooze with big-shot opposite numbers, host parties, 'facilitate strong trade links' (if you get my drift), and give dull speeches at art museums and chamber-of-commerce meetings. I don't really see how a career diplomat would be better at any of these things than a suave corporate Macher such as Murphy (or for that matter former ambassador Timken) -- especially since the corporate Macher will be advised by career diplomats.

I'd imagine that in a relationship as stable as USA-Germany, there's little the ambassador really needs to do. U.S.-German ties, driven mainly by mutual economic interest, will probably keep purring along quietly, like the engine of a Mercedes. In fact, I'm sure many Germans will be secretly flattered to be receiving an envoy from Goldman Sachs, which they know (g) has as much power as the U.S. government, if not more so. The fact that Murphy, unlike Timken, actually speaks German is a big plus. People like it when you speak their language! 

Now, I may be wrong about this. If someone can identify important things a career diplomat can achieve as ambassador that Murphy could not, I'm happy to learn. But until then, color me reasonably satisfied with this pick.

Comments

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Christian

My (admittedly limited) experience with bureaucratic types actually leaves me a bit reassured that we're using a slick banker-type as ambassador. As you pointed out, some of these ambassador positions seem to be rather style over substance. The impression I got on visiting the State Department a few years ago, and from various foreign service officers that I've met, is that most of the career guys are extremely competent, but very wonkish and/or adventuresome. Not necessarily the suave personalities that people imagine diplomats to be. (One foreign service officer visiting my law school had a rat tail haircut!) I'm sure this has improved the quality of the diplomatic service since the days when all it took were the right connections and mannerisms, but these things had their purpose, as well...

Michael

Historically die US Government gives 30% of the ambassadorships to major campaign contributors. It seems that the Obama administration was not fully aware of the informal 30% threshold and so there were some protests of the career diplomats.

And Murphy's main duties as ambassador will probably be giving investment advise to his ambassador colleagues at fancy parties.

Detlef

I wonder though how the USA would react if European countries would follow that example?

The USA is accustomed to foreign countries sending their best career diplomats to Washington. After all, Washington is important. And even if foreign ambassadors too don´t do much on their own in Washington, I suspect Washington "society" still expects its "due"?

Anyway, this US "tradition" seems a bit impolite. Who you send to a foreign capital as ambassador still sends a signal on how important that country is for you.
Selling that post for money indicates not a lot.

And just because I´m curious.
What are the top ambassadorships for US career diplomats? Iraq, Afghanistan, Burma?
Joking aside, it would seem that career diplomats might be even a tad more motivated if sometime in the future they might have a chance at some of the "plum" ambassadorships too?
You could call it merit-based instead of money-based. :)

Detlef

@Junger Gott

Cover your back?
You (for example Wall Street banks) massively donate to candidates from both parties. For example I confidently expect that there were/are other bank executives who donated like amounts of money to the Republican party.

In return you get "bipartisan support" for not bothering the banks too much? "Icky" things like more regulation, usury laws, closer supervision by government agencies?
Things like that?

A few millions donated each year protect the billions of $ in profits.
And the billions in profit of course pay your bonuses.
I wouldn´t be surprised if banks (and other businesses) actually encourage it.

Junger Gott

I know rich people do a lot of unreasonable things with their money simply because they can but this aspect of American politics has always struck me as weird:

"Murphy and his "homemaker" wife, Tammy, have contributed nearly $1.5 million to federal candidates, committees and parties since 1989, with 94 percent of that sum going to Democrats, according to a Center for Responsive Politics analysis. They also contributed an additional $100,000 to Obama's inauguration committee."


Considering the fact how close the two big American parties are to one another if you look at most other countries (Germany is actually not the best example here, but try Italy instead), why do people spend millions of dollars to help some guy win an election over another guy. Heck, even if he does win it'll last for 6 years at most (senators).

It's not that life for a Goldman Sachs executive would have been much different if McCain had won. So spending big money is so - irrational. He'd probably been better of spending the money on women who are more exciting than a "homemaker wife".

bp

The fact that Murphy knows German is probably less important for Germans than for his task as the United States ambassador in Germany. The lingua franca on the diplomatic parquet in Berlin is German. Timken is said to have always looked rather lost on these parties the Russian ambassdor frequently hosts.

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