Home > News: Editorial > Obama’s cabinet ripe with familiar faces; support shows a restrained approach to change

Obama’s cabinet ripe with familiar faces; support shows a restrained approach to change

By Christina Edwards

January 21, 2009

Without a doubt, the political candidates of this past election season are some of the most carefully scrutinized people in the U.S. From practically the second President Barack Obama was announced as President-elect, scrutiny and criticism shifted to include questions about Obama’s potential cabinet.

As those skeptical about the quantity and quality of his political experience shrouded Obama’s campaign in criticism, the cabinet nominations were the first chance for the then president-elect to prove himself and gain the trust of the rest of the country after a testy and unexpectedly long campaign process.

For many, the cabinet nominations set the tone and impression of the beginning of the presidential term. So what do the picks say about the 44 presidency?

In short, they project a lot of caution, a dash of safety-oriented doubt and a sprinkle of self-assertion.

One of Obama’s earliest staff picks was Rahm Emanuel for White House Chief of Staff. Emanuel has the experience that Obama is hoping to assert in response to questions of his own experience. He served as a top advisor to President Clinton and is a veteran Congressional leader. But this same top-level experience comes with a catch; he’s a “Clintonite.” Does Obama have the political expertise and knowledge necessary to create his own team?

And what about all of this change we’ve been talking about? Emanuel’s experience may show good judgment, but may also be a double-edged sword.

Adding to the lineup of politicians we’ve seen before is Obama’s secretary of state nominee. The nomination of Hillary Clinton was possibly the most publically scrutinized of the process. While Clinton has significant and extensive experience in world travel and diplomacy, she is, of course, part of the old school of politicians so much of the country is eager to get away from, particularly in the form of her husband’s lingering presence.

And of course, Clinton’s rather volatile campaign against Obama in the Democratic primaries raises additional concerns. The two, who are probably the most prominent example of “frenemies” in current U.S. politics, have traded enough barbs to raise well-founded skepticism on their ability to work concurrently. A partnership between the two could be incredibly well-run and an effective linking of vision and expertise; yet, there’s always the lingering chance that the old prejudices and unsettling politics of the past could lead more toward the path of disaster.

While many of Obama’s cabinet picks may suggest a tendency to stay the same rather than the promised change, others in top positions draw from his circle of Chicagoan political contacts, which suggest an assertion of his own style.

He is certainly treading with an appropriate or even precautionary level of carefulness: His vetting process has shown to be incredibly rigorous. Gov. Bill Richardson has withdrawn his name for commerce secretary in the midst of the vetting process. Even in the case of Timothy Geithner’s taxes, things are out in the open.

Obama’s cabinet is promising, but with reservation. There’s a lot of solid experience and potential. But it remains to be seen what will come when that solid experience and caution meets the promise of change.

Written originally for Elon University’s The Pendulum

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