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.
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.