We’ve celebrated for two-and-a-half weeks and what better way to remember Jack Kennedy on this solemn day than to watch President-elect Obama’s deliberate, studious, and principled leadership in action. The hard work began precisely at 11 p.m. on 04 November, healing our land and cleaning up our reputation in the world, after the Administration of George W. Bush. These two months are important get ready days and the legacy of lobbyists and thieves looting the Treasury as they leave town with their tails between their legs will not die easily.
Barack Obama gave his acceptance speech on the night of the day 45 years earlier when Dr. Martin Luther King delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech. In 1963, another leader who inspired and embodied hope for the future was taken from us. From a warehouse storing textbooks and a Texas city known for football, big hair, and large living, a much-too-storied place in history was earned as Lee Harvey Oswald shot and killed John F. Kennedy, the nation’s 35th President from the sixth floor window of the Texas School Book Depository.
Camelot ended abruptly and we began a steady descent into the depths of a costly guerrilla war that took 57,000 of our sons and daughters in Vietnam, Civil Rights violence, and a period of deep division in our land. As we thought we were rising out of it with Richard Nixon to China and détente with Russia a possibility, Watergate reared its ugly head, he resigned, and we entered 30+ years of deep partisan bickering, stagnation, special prosecutors, and a military-industrial complex built on fear and lies that seems only now on the brink of real change.
While it’s easy for anyone to be a Pollyanna in the early days, let me share some views of why the leaks matter not a whit and why we need to pay attention to the deliberate actions of the last two-and-a-half weeks. Barack Obama has been preparing for this moment for months and the hard work shows in his grasp of the situation and where he wants to head. As his Cabinet lens comes into our focus, one can look behind the choices in a clearer way to understand what President Obama is really thinking. Make no mistake, he will be firmly in charge and anyone thinking this is business as usual will be sadly mistaken.
- He knows what he doesn’t know and surrounds himself with people more knowledgeable than himself. I was reading a pair of excerpts from Malcolm Gladwell’s new book Outliers (he wrote The Tipping Point and Blink) and in it he talks of the perseverance of all top performers. They required 10,000 of practice in their craft to reach the highest levels. Obama does not have 10,000 hours of executive experience, refuses to fake it, and has put together a team with a mixture of old and new. His deliberate appointment of people who know how to get things done in Washington has been criticized by some for “hiring ex-Clinton re-treads.”
- Rahm Emanuel as White House Chief of Staff and the campaign brain trust as key advisors. The ones he came to the dance with and kept him honest for two years will be there helping him. Emanuel, Joe Biden, and Tom Daschle will be key player moving the President’s agenda on Capitol Hill. Progressives say this is business as usual. This is what is needed to have a hope of moving some of the more difficult left-leaning programs through. Just as donning Bush masks and screaming gets you on telly, wait until you have something to compain about before jumping on him, the far right is already blaming the current woes on him and he does not take office for 59 days!
- Timothy Geith at Treasury is a an example of youth (47) and a new hand with new ideas. If he then places Larry Summers as head of the Federal Reserve and other older hands, he get principled brilliant leaders who will find a way out of the crisis. Bill Richardson at Commerce is also brilliant. Here is a man who knows how to sell and that is the prime role of a Commerce Secretary. With Geith and Company fixing the bottom line, Richardson will focus on the top line.
- Tom Daschle as Health and Human Services is a masterstroke. Here is a player who for years was Senate Majority Leader. He knows how to get healthcare changed passed in the Congress.
- Hillary Clinton at State is not the same thing as when Bush put Powell there to block him. All is forgiven here. What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas? Well what happens in the primaries where you fight your ideological equal so you have to pick on other stuff, stays in the primaries. Obama has loyalists who hate the Hillaristas and vice versa. Get over yourselves people. If they can, you can. What was this about, your person winning or fixing the nation? You also get 2 for 1 there as Bill is still revered and what trip with the both of them would not boost the US reputation abroad.
- The Lieberman situation as cover for his real game changer – John Dingell’s ouster. Obama is a poker player and a basketball player. He saw the whole court on this one and Lieberman was Michael Jordan with everyone swarming him defensively until scrawny Henry Waxman stood alone under the basket for the big pass. Everyone was focused for weeks on punishing Joe for supporting McCain. He let the game play out and the real heavy lifting was removing obstructionist John Dingell from his powerful Energy Chairmanship. Obama forgave Joe but made sure the word went out that energy and the environment matter. More importantly, he said business as usual in Detroit was not going to be tolerated. The Big Three will be bailed out but their new partner will be the US taxpayer who demands smart manufacturing and energy efficient cars. As the stock rises again, the money goes back into the Treasury to pay the bailout and make money on the “investment.”
- Lincoln’s Team of Rivals is an overplayed theme. The media is ga-ga over Hillary, Joe Biden, and Bill Richardson (all former Presidential rivals) on the team. They coyly say keep your friends close and your enemies even closer. Obama is smarter than that. He knows what he doesn’t know and wants a blockbuster team to hash out solutions with and take definitive action. He is willing to make mistakes along the way, admit it was a mistake, and change course.
- Keeping Republican Gates in Defense through the Iraq War winds down and bringing in Retired Marine Gen. James L. Jones, a former NATO Supreme Allied Commander will send a strong bipartisan message.
So instead of predicting, you get no extra points there, just watch the operation and marvel at it.
Denis Campbell is a US journalist based in the United Kingdom. He contributes to newspapers and magazines, is a BBC Radio election commentator and publishes the daily e-magazine The Vadimus Post from the Latin Quo Vadimus – where are we headed and do we know why?
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