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Column: Cabinet Picks Risky, Possibly Pragmatic

This story was written by Joshua Sharp, Daily Trojan


President-elect Barack Obamas transition period has generated almost as much excitement as the election cycle itself. With the pressure of the whole world watching, it is hard to criticize Obama too harshly as he makes his first major decisions as president-elect.

It would be arrogant and self-inflating for members of the chattering class, myself included, to pretend only we know the right candidate for each Cabinet position.

But Obamas first decisions do provide some insight into his mindset as well as a faint glimpse of what an Obama administrations first few years could look like.

By selecting Rahm Emanuel as his chief of staff, Obama demonstrated a cold-blooded love of pragmatism founded in the knowledge that Washington is run by who can best manage the slippery, and sometimes stubborn, levers of power in politics. Emanuel has shown he can handle these duties remarkably well.

While some Republicans have criticized Emanuel as being too partisan, Obama has the ability to channel Emanuels talents toward a post-partisan agenda. Time will tell whether Obama wants to do so.

Favorable indicators can be found in Obamas respectful, nuanced ascent since Nov. 4. He has reminded the world that America can only have one president at a time, and declined to attend a global economic summit out of deference to President Bush.

This modest, careful behavior is both honorable and politically wise.

Obama has also reached out to his general election opponent, Republican Sen. John McCain. With the Democrats on the brink of having 60 seats in the Senate, McCain is likely to become a valuable asset in securing a few Republicans support for some of the Democrats legislative attempts, and Obama seems willing to form a very productive political alliance with McCain.

With presidential ambitions behind him, McCain doesnt care about pandering to anyone. Hell likely infuriate the conservative base and excite those maverick-loving moderates at least a few times more.

The more controversial pick is Obamas possible selection of Sen. Hillary Clinton for secretary of state.

Like her or not,Clinton brings a huge amount of energy and star power to the incoming administration. The Democratic base loves her. She knows most of the worlds leaders personally. AndClinton has a unique ability to project a relatively calm demeanor, even when threatening to obliterate Iran.

By embracing his chief rival from the Democratic primaries, Obama also invites comparisons to Abraham Lincolns ideologically-diverse Cabinet, popularized by historian Doris Kearns Goodwins book, Team of Rivals.

Lincoln included many rivals and dissenting voices in his Cabinet rather than assembling a room full of yes-men. It appears that the intellectually curious Obama wants to similarly avoid the dangers of a groupthink atmosphere that quashes dissent. The challenge for Obama will be to prevent those dissenting voices from speaking out in public and igniting controversy.

That is why the possibility of Hillary Clinton as secretary of state is such a perilous path for Obama. While he might be able to harness Clintons talents most of the time, she has built herself a persona that suggests it would be difficult for her to play second-fiddle.

The additional presence of former President Bill Clinton, with his innumerable business dealings, conflicts of interest and propensity for verbal gaffes, further increases the odds that No-Drama Obama will be faced with unwanted, unnecessary distractions throughout his first term.

Bill Clintons foundation has never revealed a list of its donors, but some intrepid reporting by The New York Times and The New York Sun havefound that the governments of Dubai, Kuwait and Qatar have all contributed, as have the Saudi royal family, companies under investigation by the Justice Department, and a billionaire investor who allegedly profited from the former presidents influence.

Why Obama would want this type of baggage at the beginning of his presidency is beyond me, but it is still his decision. In light of his other transition-period moves, it appears that Obama is willing to sacrifice possible criticism for potential pragmatic benefits.

Good politics? No one knows with certainty. But without a doubt, Obama is ready to roll the dice.

Let the drama unfold.

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