Friday, November 28, 2008

obama's team

The president-elect's cabinet choices have generated a lot of commentary, most of it to the effect that conservatives are happier, and liberals perhaps less so, than would have been expected. To Obama's supporters it looks like the work of a mature and confident coalition-builder, what one Italian newspaper call "la rivoluzione della sobrieta'," roughly "the serious revolution." To many on the left it looks like a sellout, the choices of Hillary Clinton and Lawrence Summers, who left the presidency of Harvard after making offhand comments about the possible inferiority of women in math and sciences, going down especially hard (I blogged the Summers affair in an earlier posting).

Not suprisingly, my own view tends toward the former: the country clearly needs less not more partisanship, and bringing on the best people regardless of politics seems a good way to do that. Keeping the current Defense Secretary, Robert Gates, for a transitional period is also consistent with this approach.

The question is whether Obama will have a governing philosophy at all or will be seen as a restoration of the Clinton era with a younger face. Both Bush and Hilary Clinton imploded, in large part, because they were seen as restorations of a previous, not entirely relevant period rather than as a fresh start. Reagan succeeded because, whatever one thought of his policies, he had a new and different approach that he more or less stuck to throughout his time in office. It's a tough choice: one needs to show moderation to get things done and fidelity to principles in order to know what to do in the first place. But the record of centrist, "best and the brightest" government is a checkered one at best: one wonders if Obama is just a bit too anxious to please people like me and a bit too hesitant to do the things he was elected to do.


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