Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Is Obama Clinton III?

Dear Pres.-elect Obama,
While you haven't made any of your cabinet selections official, the indications from various media reports seem to show that you're tapping many former Clinton administration officials and other Washington insiders to prominent posts.
I believe that any incoming administration should get an initial benefit of the doubt on their choices. You won a resounding and historic victory, and instead of squabbling over appointments, we should spend our time and energy debating the issues you campaigned on.
Still, I'm beginning to hear the grumbles, and some seem to be legitimate. Not just from the typical partisans, but from some of those who voted for you. Where's the change, they wonder? These are all Clinton re-treads, they claim. Rahm Emanuel as Chief of Staff. Eric Holder as Attorney General. Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State? Tom Daschle for Health and Human Services? Daschle isn't exactly a Clintonite, but he is the former Senate Majority Leader and can easily be labeled a "Washington insider." Even Vice President-elect Joe Biden's Chief of Staff, Ron Klain, is an old Al Gore staffer.
I understand that you don't want to be Jimmy Carter, bringing in all new, fresh faces who don't know how Washington works. That could get you into some early trouble. I also completely understand how much of the best talent from your party, comes from the last administration.
The concern would be is whether this, as Hillary Clinton once put it, "Change you can believe in, or change you can Xerox." The question that many regular people are posing is: Is this the best we can do? Aren't there smart, capable people with either government or private sector experience that aren't so blatantly tied to the last Democratic administration? Or maybe the better question is, do the people that hold these big Cabinet posts really need top-level government experience in a previous administration?
The main argument for your election was that you'd be post-partisan. You obviously ran against George Bush, but your tougher contest, the race that really tested your metal was your primary fight against Hillary Clinton. You claimed we didn't need to go back to those years either.
But the early signals you are giving shows you are certainly willing to embrace a good chunk of that Clinton legacy. The question is, just how much? How much will these Clinton-era selections shape you and the perception people have of you as the great post-partisan change agent?
Those who voted for you hold very high expectations. Most of your most loyal supporters will give you much leeway for how you decide to govern. But these early Cabinet picks will also send a real signal to those soft Republicans who gave you the benefit of the doubt on Nov. 4th, but will be watching you very closely beginning Jan. 20th.

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