President-elect Barack Obama is selecting the people who are to bring about the change he promised during his campaign.
In choosing his Cabinet, Barack Obama reportedly has tried to draw inspiration from the “team of rivals” approach Abraham Lincoln used to advise him through perhaps the most difficult time in this nation’s history.
We’re not sure we’d characterize his nominees as rivals, but if the most effective leaders are those who surround themselves with highly intelligent and able people who will challenge them — who will speak truth to power, as it were — then Obama’s choices for the most part speak well of him.
This is particularly true of his nominee to lead the Department of Veterans Affairs. Gen. Eric Shinseki was refused reappointment as Army chief of staff in the Bush administration after literally speaking truth to power: He publicly challenged then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld on the number of troops required to maintain post-victory stability in Iraq. That he was correct was of no import. He was rebuked by Rumsfeld and, later, effectively forced into retirement.
Obama has unretired him, tapping him as VA secretary.
The kind of clear-eyed, fearless advocacy Shinseki demonstrated in assessing the Iraq situation will well serve veterans throughout the nation, who saw benefits slide during the Bush administration.
Shinseki joins a Cabinet-to-be that combines experience and independent thinking.
Congressman Rahm Emanuel of Chicago, selected as White House chief of staff, is tough and disciplined.
Sen. Hillary Clinton, in line for secretary of state, has proven herself a quick study and hard worker in her eight years representing New York.
She joins a number of Cabinet nominees with Clinton White House ties, including Timothy Geithner at Treasury, Lawrence Summers as head of the White House Economic Council and Peter Orszag as White House budget director. Wall Street responded favorably to their selections, which is at least initially reassuring.
Meanwhile, old hands Bill Richardson of New Mexico and former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle will fill in at Commerce and Health and Human Services, respectively. A Justice Department veteran, Eric Holder, has been nominated for attorney general. Robert Gates is more than just the Cabinet’s token Republican, and keeping him on as a steady hand as secretary of defense in what remains a dangerous world seems wise.
Again, most of these folks have long records of public service, giving them time to pile up some regrets as well as rewards. But on balance, they are well regarded.
By and large, Obama hasn’t used his appointments for political payback. Ironically, he’s leaned toward experienced insiders to bring about the “change” he never stopped talking about during his campaign. He’s gone a little heavy on the Ivy Leaguers, who can sometimes be out of step with the rest of the country, but better that than the anti-intellectualism and focus on loyalty over ability that sometimes have prevailed with previous administrations. He has steered clear of ideologues. These are centrist picks.
And as a first test of an Obama presidency, this potential Cabinet is encouraging.