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Column: Obama's Cabinet The First Step To Real Change

This story was written by Stuart Baimel, The Stanford Daily


Were now two weeks into President-elect Barack Obamas (It still feels weird to say that. It really does.) transition, which is probably the most-watched in the past 25 years or so.

Weve read or at least I have story after story in the media reminding us of Bill Clintons supposedly disastrous transition, and how Obama should avoid his mistakes. Obama, who does seem to be moving quite a bit faster than Clinton, selected his Chief of Staff quickly. Rahm Emanuel, a centrist once associated with the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC) and serious policy wonk, is an excellent choice for the job. Hes also filled several other staff positions with loyalists like Valerie Jarrett. Despite leftist criticism, Emanuels selection indicates Obamas desire to govern from the center.

However, he has yet, as of this writing, to make any cabinet selections. It does seem that he will choose Hillary Clinton of all people to be Secretary of State, but that is not certain. While there is considerable debate over how much influence cabinet secretaries really have, they will become the most visible faces of the Obama Administration and represent his policies both domestically and abroad. Choosing the right group will be crucial, as Obama wants to get moving quickly on major policy initiatives. After more than three years of lethargy and inaction from the Bush administration, picking dynamic secretaries will jump-start new policies.

The choice recently garnering the most chatter is the likely prospect of Clinton as Secretary of State. It seems, at first glance, like a stunning choice. Senator Clintons strengths during the campaign tended to be on the domestic-policy side: healthcare and jobs. Shes also considerably more hawkish than Obama, adopting a firm stance regarding Iran, while being more outspoken in support of Israel. It would be an interesting selection in that while Clinton campaigned for Obama and gave a great speech at the Democratic National Convention, they were never particularly close and had a long, acrimonious campaign. Would she be overshadowed by Vice President-elect Joe Bidens foreign policy experience? How much latitude would she have when meeting with foreign leaders?

Obama also has an interesting decision to make regarding Secretary of Defense. Current Defense Secretary Bob Gates has been, by most accounts, doing a fantastic job. Hes been a strong advocate for more money for the State Department and Foreign Service (maybe the only time we will ever see the Pentagon actually wanting to give another agency more money). Gates has also worked to de-politicize the Pentagon after six years of Donald Rumsfeld. It seems likely that he will stay on for at least a year, which would be unprecedented. While cabinet secretaries occasionally do survive presidential transitions, the Secretary of Defense never has. Gates, never a registered Republican, has done more than enough to stay on. Obama would be wise to ask him to stay.

The biggest choice Obama has to make is Secretary of the Treasury. A lot of names are being bandied about, but the most intriguing is Larry Summers, Treasury Secretary in Bill Clintons second term and former president of Harvard. Summers has a blazing intellect, but his comments on gender and intelligence, which were somewhat misinterpreted, have earned him many enemies. Selecting him would send a signal to investors and foreign leaders that Obama is serious about economic policy and does not intend to engage in ideological reform. Summers is pro-free trade; he would help reassure East and South Asian allies that Obama does not intend to be a protectionist.

We will already know a lot about the Obama Administration and what policies it will pursue before Inauguration Day. Obama has shown a remarkable interest in hearing opposing points ofview from people close to him; this is an extremely rare trait in a president. Picking Sen. Clinton is the first big step in that direction. If his cabinet reflects that attitude, then well be one step closer to having the kind of presidency that has been so lacking in the past eight years, reaffirming why we voted for Obama in the first place.

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