One of the most important tasks facing President-elect Obama is selection of his governing team. He will no doubt choose men and women who share his view of the universe, but who will not necessarily agree with him at all times. He proved this by his selection of outspoken Joe Biden as his running mate. He will want to surround himself with the brightest and most creative people, but he will probably avoid taking too many risks. This he has demonstrated repeatedly throughout his grueling two-year campaign. The discipline demonstrated by his campaign was admirable. Still, he is able to make allowances for the occasional ill-chosen word. He himself has not been guiltless in that regard. (Remember his remark about “bitter” people clinging to guns and religion?)
Obama is also a consummate politician (in the best sense of the word) so you can count on him to make the appropriate gestures toward diversity. He will certainly have African-Americans, women and Hispanics on his team, and I would not be surprised to see Asian-Americans, Native Americans, and all the other ethnic groups that make up America’s increasingly diverse population in key government positions. The challenge will be to find the most capable people to govern in a time of crisis, while showcasing the face of America. To add to the complexity of the task, loyalty will have to be rewarded. Those who stood by his side on the long and difficult road to the White House will expect their place in the sun (photo above shows Obama with campaign advisers. L to R – Austan Goolsbee, Jason Furman, Tony Lake, Susan Rice, David Axelrod and David Plouffe).
Fortunately for Obama, in today’s America there is a broad spectrum of talent to choose from. The socio-political climate that made possible his own rise to the presidency has also produced a generation of brilliant Americans of both genders and with varied ethnic backgrounds. My eyes were opened during the election campaign as I witnessed the performances on television by young African-American and Hispanic men and women. Martin Luther King would have been proud. I was particularly impressed by Obama’s pal, Deval Patrick, Governor of Massachusetts (photo at right).
I don’t for a minute suppose that Obama will base his selections on race and gender to the detriment of ability. But I am sure he will take such factors into consideration as he makes his selections. So whom is he likely to choose?
He already has made one selection: To lead his transition team, he picked John Podesta (photo at left), Bill Clinton’s chief of staff from October 1998 until January 2001. A frequent guest on news programs, the Chicago native is a visiting professor of law at Georgetown University Law Center. As for the others, one person that I am sure of is Susan Rice (in photo above). You may have seen her on TV, representing the Obama campaign, and you may have been impressed (as I was) by her composed, coherent responses. Clinton’s assistant secretary of state for African affairs, she is a foreign policy expert. (She is not related to Condoleezza Rice.)
Another sure bet is Austan Goolsbee (in photo above), a University of Chicago professor with a reputation as a problem-solver. He got into trouble earlier this year for telling Canadians not to worry about Obama’s anti-NAFTA rhetoric on the campaign trail; but, as I said, Obama will probably be willing to forget this slip-up. Also likely to be forgiven is Samantha Power (photo at right), a former Obama adviser who fell from grace when she called Hillary Clinton “a monster” during the primaries. A Pulitzer prize-winning author, foreign policy analyst, journalist and professor, she is just too bright to be ignored.
Obama will surely find key positions for his national campaign co-chairmen, Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (photo at far right) and former Sen. Tom Daschle (photo at right). And you can bet he won’t forget campaign strategist David Axelrod (in photo above), the man who came up with the “change” campaign theme, or campaign manager David Plouffe (in photo above), the disciplined and frugal executive who amassed and managed the biggest-ever political treasury.
Obama is expected to “reach across the aisle” to Republican Senators Dick Luger and Chuck Hagel. He keeps mentioning multi-billionaire financier Warren Buffet and former Federal reserve Chairman Paul Volcker, so he is probably going to find a place for them somewhere, too.
What about such high-profile figures as Al Gore, Hillary Clinton, John Kerry, Caroline Kennedy, Colin Powell, General James Jones (the Supreme Allied Commander of NATO in Europe) and General Wesley Clark? You can be sure they will be in the mix, somewhere. I can see Hillary as a Supreme Court Justice, can’t you?And Al Gore would be a great ambassador to the United Nations – or some kind of environmental czar back home.
Obama is sure to tap New Mexico’s (Hispanic) Governor, Bill Richardson (photo, middle left), and perhaps Kansas Governor Kathleen Sibelius (photo at left), Governor Janet Napolitano (photo at right) and Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri (photo at far left) . And he won’t forget his close friend and ally Governor Tim Kaine of Virginia, either. Other likely choices include Sen. Jim Webb and Rep. Rahm Emanuel (photo below, left), who is rumored to be in line for the job of chief of staff. Another possible appointment is one of his earliest supporters, Sen. Robert Casey of Pennsylvania. (photo below, right).
One of Obama’s virtues is his willingness to listen to advice. And a lot of good advice will be available. He has the Kennedy clan behind him (despite his illness, Ted Kennedy is already working on a universal health care plan). He enjoys the support of such pillars of the House as John Lewis and James Clyburn, as well as activists Jesse Jackson Sr. and Al Sharpton. And on the Republican side, such totem figures as Barry Goldwater’s grandchildren and President Eisenhower’s granddaughter have rallied to the Obama cause.
To “fix broken Washington,” he will hearken to divergent views and sift through apparently contradictory proposals, seeking common ground on which to build a new America. I think he can do it. I think he can find useful suggestions in the ideas of Robert Rubin, Robert Reich and William Cohen… not to mention Will-i-am (of the Blackeyed Peas) and others who have so enthusiastically endorsed him.
Probably most important, that includes you, too. Obama has made a point of summoning us all to his side, urging us to participate in the greatest democracy on earth.