Can Barack Obama bring change to Washington by turning to a varied collection of power players, political insiders and established names for his cabinet and senior staff?
Is change even part of the picture now that the election is over?
As Obama continues to assemble his team, the "new" government of President-elect Obama has all the trappings of former administrations — particularly Bill Clinton’s — and could set the new President up for charges of selling out on his promises to bring change to the Presidency and government.
One thing is for certain. Obama will have his hands full trying to keep in check all the egos in his cabinet room and at senior staff meetings.
Barack Obama’s picks for cabinet and other senior posts are many things: centrists, veterans, rivals. Most of all, though, they’re big: Big names, big intellects, and big egos.
The president-elect’s national security and economic policy teams, inside the White House and out, will be led by power politics veterans, all but one of them older than the president-elect, and all accustomed to being the most important voice in the room.
While official announcements and Senate confirmations await, it appears that on national security decisions, Obama will have a team of heavyweights: Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Vice President Joe Biden, retired four-star Marine general Jim Jones as his National Security Adviser, and four-star General David Petraeus as chief of U.S. Central Command.
His economic team is of similar stature: new Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner will find his rival for the job, Larry Summers, in the White House, while former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker will also be in the mix as head of a new economic recovery advisory board.
White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel seems unlikely to be shy about his views in either arena.
The choices have been widely praised, with even critics such as Karl Rove and the conservative Wall Street Journal editorial board saluting Obama for surrounding himself with some of the most talented and highly regarded figures in American public life. Democrats have celebrated the sheer muscle Obama has assembled to push through his agenda.
Obama has encouraged comparisons between his governing team and Abraham Lincoln’s cabinet, which included several of his Republican rivals. But Obama’s is less a team of rivals than a team of giants—and his best and brightest will inevitably jostle up against one another, as some rise and others fall within an administration that has ambitious goals but limited resources.
Almost certainly, they’ll test the strength of a president brimming with confidence and with a self-described mandate.
The Associated Press suggests Obama has little choice:
Barack Obama’s campaign credo: Change is good. President-elect Barack Obama’s credo: When it comes to war and peace, maybe wisdom is better.
Obama has assembled a national security brain trust populated by graybeard establishment figures with decades of combined experience and even a few medals. He is entrusting critical wartime management to people with unassailable credentials and low buzz factor.
The best example of the Obama Battleplan Version 2.0 is Robert Gates.
Obama’s insurgent candidacy was founded on his opposition to the Iraq war and a promise to end it, fast. But with a crushing global financial crisis supplanting Iraq as Job One, the Democrat has turned to the very man running the Iraq and Afghan wars for the current Republican president, officials confirmed to The Associated Press.
"The old ways of thinking and the old ways of acting just won’t do," Obama said at a news conference Wednesday.
Gates, who has served as President George W. Bush’s defense secretary for two years, will remain in the Cabinet for some time, probably a year, according to an official familiar with discussions between him and the president-elect. His appointment would fulfill an Obama pledge to include a Republican in his Cabinet.
"You have a young president still trying to establish his bona fides and he has to have a seasoned team," said Stephen Flanagan, director of the international security program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
Where do you go to get a seasoned team? Well, to people seasoned in one previous administration or another.
Time will tell if this is change or if everything new is old again.