Friday, 21 November 2008

Obama is showing early wisdom in his likely cabinet choices

The Clinton-haters are having a seizure. Liberals who convinced themselves that Fox News was right - and Obama would be a red-blooded socialist - feel betrayed. Meanwhile the President-elect is proving himself to be a shrewd seeker of real talent, as he makes his cabinet picks; a process, incidentally, at which careful planning has left him well advanced on his predecessors including Bill Clinton.

Of course, we don't yet know some of the key picks, such as whether Hillary Clinton will be Secretary of State or whether Bush's Defence Secretary Robert Gates will stay in post. And Obama has already announced top jobs for team loyalists in his picks of Eric Holder as the first African-American Attorney General, Tom Daschle at health and Gov Janet Napolitano for Homeland Security.

So, why pick Hillary? Gerard Baker in The Times, no fan of Hillary, makes the case eloquently (even if he draws a different conclusion in the end):
First, few doubt that she is qualified to do it. She demonstrated on the campaign trail the breadth of her intellectual reach, a genuine depth of knowledge on global affairs and the sort of energy needed for someone who might fly half a million miles in the course of a year. What's more, it is not as though there was a great range of alternatives. John Kerry, first mooted for the job a while back, famously aloof and arrogant, might have proved a diplomatic disaster. Bill Richardson, the New Mexico Governor with the colourful past, was too risky for the global stage. Richard Holbrooke, the self-appointed dean of Democratic diplomacy, had alienated too many of the Obama foreign policy team through his disdainful dismissal of their inexperience during the primary campaign. Tony Lake, Senator Obama's principal foreign policy adviser in the campaign, said he didn't want the job. Tom Daschle, the former leader of the Senate Democrats and an early adopter of the Obama brand, seemed to lack the global heft to be the public face of the new president. So why not go with the best qualified candidate?
Baker thinks that there would be too much drama if Hillary is selected, and that she would be running a permanent 2012 Presidential campaign as the most prominent member of Obama's team. But Time magazine points out here that selecting her could have the opposite effect, and be as much raw politics in Obama's case as the politics of change.

At the same time, Obama is reaching out to Republicans including John McCain and Gates to show just how inclusive - and imaginative - his administration will be. Of course, there are the leaks and the briefings. But the process is still in better shape than the media lets on: Obama is not only well advanced, he is showing real imagination in the transition.

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