Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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November 22, 2008
By: Hilzoy

The Cabinet Comes Into View

I'm quite impressed by the way Barack Obama's cabinet is shaking out. Eric Holder seems to be a superb choice for Attorney General, as is Janet Napolitano for Homeland Security. I'm really happy about Daschle at HHS -- both because I think it raises the chances that we'll actually get a serious health care plan through Congress, and because Daschle's appointment indicates that that's a serious priority for Obama. I'm still reading up on Timothy Geithner, but so far I'm quite impressed by him as well.

Bob Gates seems to be a serious possibility for Secretary of Defense. As I wrote a few weeks ago, I think this would also be a good move, for reasons Spencer Ackerman explained here. Scott Horton wrote a good post about Gates a few days ago, giving additional reasons why Gates might be a good pick. Basically, I think that there are two main reasons for keeping Gates. The first is that it's very important to get bipartisan cover for the withdrawal from Iraq if we want to avoid some future conservative "if only the Democrats had let us win" story. (Likewise, bipartisan cover would be very useful if Obama decides to cut some weapons systems.) The second is that by all accounts the military have a lot of respect for Gates; keeping him on, therefore, would allow Obama to bypass the need to establish his own credibility and that of his Secretary of Defense with them. (Yes, I know: this shouldn't be necessary. But it is.)

Neither of these reasons would cut any ice with me if Gates had been a bad Secretary of Defense. But he hasn't. He's been very good, under difficult conditions. Moreover, he seems like the sort of person who would either try to implement Obama's policies rather than working to undermine them or turn the job down. It would be especially good if Obama were to reach an understanding that he would leave after a few years, allowing Obama to appoint a different Secretary of Defense after the withdrawal from Iraq is complete.

I'm less thrilled with Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State, and watching the daily leaks apparently designed to keep us all on tenterhooks about her decision-making process does not make me like the idea any better. On the other hand, what worried me about her as President was the idea that she would be making the final decisions about whether or not to go to war. Since she made that call wrong the last time around, and has never seemed to regret it, I saw no reason to think I should trust her to get it right in the future. As Secretary of State, however, she will not make that decision. She will be able to use her dedication, command of detail, and star power, but she will not be able to decide whether or not we should invade another country. That sounds OK to me.

But all in all, Obama has chosen some very, very impressive people. Isn't it great to have a grownup in charge?

***

PS: articles about Geithner, in addition to the two Steve cited:

Justin Fox
WSJ, and another
Felix Salmon, and an earlier piece, and one on his role in rescuing Bear Stearns
NYT profile from early 2007
Portfolio.com
Geithner's speeches. This one, from 2006, is quite interesting: it contains the sentence: "The changes that have reduced the vulnerability of the system to smaller shocks may have increased the severity of the large ones." Indeed.

Hilzoy 12:42 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (20)

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Comments

This is not meant as a criticism of Obama's picks; I think they are fine. But the compentency of the people chosen can only go so far in making a for a successful administration. Kennedy's "best and brightest" didn't do so well. On paper, Bush's appointments seemed decent to begin with. Powell, Rumsfeld, Cheney all had a good deal of experience. That didn't turn out very well, either.

It will be up to the President himself to excercise his own judgement in evaluating the advise he is given. And here I think Obama will do very well. He seems to have not only the intellect, but the temprament to make a great president. That is why I am not too concerned about trying to read divine the entrails of his cabinet picks. Some have been very encouraging simply because they firm up the idea that he intends to fulfill his campaign pledges. But since he ran on a very specific platform and achieved a mandate for that platform, I have been convinced he would do what he said he wanted to do before he had made a single selection.

Obama has been right more often than many of his supporters (including myself). (Well, I didn't like his FISA position.) Can we let the honeymoon linger for a little while, please? (This addressed to the media, not Hilzoy.)

Posted by: Cap and Gown on November 22, 2008 at 1:07 AM | PERMALINK

When you're right. When reality shows you were right. When the public see you were right. You win and you have all the cover you need.

The Republicans screwed up monumentally. They should realize that and let the election results speak.

If Dems are trying to fix things and Republicans filibuster then it could really be said that Republicans are traitors who don't want our government to succeed or for our people to survive. What other description of their behavior could one ascribe?

If Repubs want to work with Dems they should do it. Filibustering is worse than worthless just now.

Posted by: MarkH on November 22, 2008 at 2:01 AM | PERMALINK

I just can't wait for them to get in there and start work.

I'm really tired of the way TV is covering it. Second guessing, predicting, complaining.
I'm really tired of Palin pardoning that turkey, too!

The best coverage is here, and Kos and Huffington.


Posted by: Mari on November 22, 2008 at 2:01 AM | PERMALINK

i'm really happy he's picking jim jones for nat'l security advisor, because now all those "drinking the kool-aid" jokes will actually be funny.

Posted by: skippy on November 22, 2008 at 2:05 AM | PERMALINK

By your thinking, Biden should not be vice-president...since he also voted "for the war."

It's about time you and others realize that there is not a dime's worth of difference between his and her intended foreign policy.

When you have an experienced politician who has been welcomed all over the world, by people and those in power, and who has a fine understanding of domestic AND foreign matters, you don't let that slip away because of bitterness that she DARED to question anything that Obama said.

By the way: her wanting pre-meetings before any big-league (presidential) major conferences with foreign leaders is virtually the same as Obama's who now wants such pre-meetings agreements as to the meetings' agendas.

Isn't it good to use the best of the best: she fits that model.

Can your woman-denigrations...at last., at last.

Posted by: artfulme on November 22, 2008 at 2:07 AM | PERMALINK

Can your woman-denigrations...at last., at last.

Ah, the bleatings of the ignorant...

Posted by: gwangung on November 22, 2008 at 2:22 AM | PERMALINK

Because of my work I've had a chance to see Geithner at close range in meetings etc. He's the real deal - smart, thoughtful, funny, unpretentious. He's been right in the trenches in dealing with the financial crisis, and he has a great sense for what the key issues and imperatives are and which ones are distractions.

This is an incredibly complicated situation, with loads of moving parts and critical short- and long-term decisions - it can't be solved by partisan bromides or academic theorizing ("Free markets work". "No moral hazard". "More regulation", etc). If anyone can work through these issues with an open mind and hands on experience, Geithner can. And, no, I don't work for him or know him personally.

Posted by: Basilisc on November 22, 2008 at 4:36 AM | PERMALINK

First off, there's Gates. I'd worry about bringing him in, if for no other reason than the possibility that he's Bush's DefSec, and might simply tender his resignation with the rest of them at the end. Having Jones in at NSA is a no-brainer, because he could easily move into Gates' shoes if needed.

Ah, the bleatings of the ignorant...

Just more mutton for the stew, I suppose. Between her exaggerations during the primary and Billie-J's business exploits, the Clinton name still possesses the potential to do serious damage to an Obama presidency---and it takes more than just "star power" to overcome that potential. Otherwise, it's like saying that you can drown a fire if you throw enough gasoline on it.

Holder---I'm good with Holder.

Napolitano---another big gun.

Daschle at HHS---I had held out hope that this might go to Richardson, but having Daschle in when things start ramping up towards "the ObamaCare Moment" (which is exactly what the Foxylvanians will call it) presents Dems with the "big stick" to threaten GOPer-groupies with OUR version of "the nuclear option" on the Senate floor. After 8 years of Bush, I thirst for seeing all things ReThug being swatted like gnats. Daschle's not just a fly-swatter---he's a bug zapper.

Geithner is good, and is probably one of the few "in-the-know" types who won't endlessly play the "too-big-to-fail" mentality that seems to have been the Paulson/Bernanke credo. He's probably going to be the reason why the Bushists will do everything possible to spend that entire $700 billion bailout package before January 20, because he's among the few who are honestly looking at the mega-banks and asking "why they're failing, when the little community banks are still healthy." Geithner is the only guy I know who could see the sense in letting some of the tyrannosaurs experience their justly-deserved extinction event---even Citi, if need be....

Posted by: Steve W. on November 22, 2008 at 5:10 AM | PERMALINK

The way the Clinton pick unfurled this week was like a soap opera. Clintons are like TNT: WE KNOW DRAMA.

Posted by: Quinn on November 22, 2008 at 7:46 AM | PERMALINK

Perhaps when Hil is more EXPERIENCED, she'll stop trying so hard to overcompensate in machismo.

As I said, consider this a dry run for 2016.

I'd love for her to change my mind during her term as "half-president".

Posted by: toowearyforoutrage on November 22, 2008 at 8:22 AM | PERMALINK

Hillary knows she still has a chance in 8 years. But she has to SUCCEED in the SOS role. She fails, and/or Barack dumps her, and there is NO chance in 2016. She can't so much as disagree with him. If she challenges in 2012, she's a goner forever.
so she's got to help Barack succeed.
Moreover, as SOS, she can be the Eleanor Roosevelt of the 21st century. Now that's a legacy. And still have a chance for president.

Meanwhile, in 2011, we name Bill UN Sec. Gen. He's already king of the world, might as well validate the role with an official title.

And these views from a non-Clinton fan. I hate their psycho drama of politics and marriage played out in the policy realm but hey, that's the fame and fortune culture we live in.

Posted by: daver9 on November 22, 2008 at 9:01 AM | PERMALINK

"I'm really tired of the way TV is covering it."

I Agree. The media should be spending more time on the current President and the last minute policies he's trying to push onto Americans. Such as the following:
* Mountaintop Mining: Rule would allow mining companies to dump waste into rivers and streams.

* Endangered Species Act: Rule would alter implementation of ESA to allow federal land-use managers to approve projects (like infrastructure creation, minerals extraction, or logging) without consulting federal habitat managers and biological health experts responsible for species protection.

* Power plants near National Parks: Environmental Protection Agency rule would ease current restrictions that make it difficult for power plants to operate near national parks and wilderness areas, which could increase air pollution in those areas.

* Truck Driver Safety: Department of Transportation rule will allow truck drivers to drive up to 11 consecutive hours and to spend seven consecutive days on the road with only a 34-hour break. Public Citizen and other safety advocates have sued successfully two times in the past three years to overturn this Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration rule.

* On-the-Job-Risk: Department of Labor rule would change the way federal regulators calculate estimates for on-the-job risks, and add an extra comment period to new worker health standards, creating a delay.

* Family and Medical Leave: Department of Labor rule would limit employee access to family and medical leave — making it more difficult for workers to use paid vacation or personal time to take leave, and would allow employers to speak directly to an employee's health care provider.

* Domestic Surveillance: Department of Justice Rule would expand the power of state and local law enforcement agencies to investigate potential criminal activities and report the information to federal agencies. It would broaden the scope of activities authorities could monitor to include organizations as well as individuals, along with non-criminal activities that are deemed "suspicious."

Info from Bill Moyers Journal http://www.pbs.org/moyers/journal/11212008/profile3.html

Posted by: Palinoscopy on November 22, 2008 at 9:26 AM | PERMALINK

I think the "drama" over Clinton's appointment is completely a figment of the media.

What should she have said. She had, as I see it, two choices.

1. She would wait to see whether her husband survived the vetting process to announce her intentions.

2. She needed time to decide (while her husband was being vetted).

If her husband did not survive the vet, then she could always claim she wanted to stay in the Senate anyway. But with number 2, it put her in control of the choice.

With number 1, if her husband did not survive the vetting process, and it was assumed she wanted the position, then it could be perceived as a taking Hillary down a rung.

One thing I love about Obama is that he has the ability to see things through. He can look at the bigger picture. It's why so many in the press have been so wrong about so much of their advice to him.

Same here with Hillary. Step back for a moment and look at her alternatives, and the way the press would react (over-react) to a potential fail of the Bill vetting, and I would be surprised if anyone really would have expected her to do something different.

Posted by: Patrick Bradish on November 22, 2008 at 9:29 AM | PERMALINK

FEH on Geithner. Another GS alum, Paulson and Summers protege.

Where's the Change(TM)? In the Kool-Aid, perhaps?

Posted by: SocraticGadfly on November 22, 2008 at 10:13 AM | PERMALINK

I like the idea of Hillary in the Cabinet for two reasons. First, if she's benevolently inclined, she'll be a very valuable person, very caqpable and competent. And if she were having thoughts of being the focus of an anti-Obama movement, putting her in the cabinet takes away her elected position, and she can always be fired. (I actually have become convinced she is unlikely to try this, but it is a possibility.)

On the other hand, giving her State is playing to her ego and not to her strength. I don't think she would have taken a 'lesser' position, but I would have much rather seen her using her knowledge of health and education in one of those positions -- it is a shame the old Dept of "Health, Education, and Welfare" was broken up, because it would have been ideal for her and gotten the most from her strengths. State requires more management skills than she has ever shown, and despite her claims in the primaries, I don't see any major experience in foreign affairs that would be helpful. She'll probably do a good job -- as Daver9 says, she can't afford not to unless Obama were to be a catastrophicly bad President.

(And a personal note. I'm glad to be back here after two weeks of being computer-less. Lord, it was like my tongue was cut out. But after the monitor blew up -- well, started smoking -- and there were the usual disputes and delays in picking the replacement and getting it set up, I've missed you guys.)

Posted by: Prup (aka Jim Benton) on November 22, 2008 at 11:55 AM | PERMALINK

As Patrick Bradish notes the "drama" surrounding the Clinton appointment is almost entirely the media falling over itself to create a story. While they also try and paint this as a break from "No Drama Obama," it really isn't. To get there, they misrepresent the meaning of that phrase. Does Barack seem rattled by Clinton's semi-public deliberations? No. Are there leaks coming out about his top advisors feuding over the Clinton pick? No. Does it appear to have paralyzed his transition team, stopping progress? Absolutely not.

Indeed, is Team Obama likely laughing their asses off at their ability to do lots of other things in near secret because the only thing the media cares about is chasing down the latest Clinton rumor? Probably.

Obama has never seemed to care much what those not in the know are saying or speculating. He and Clinton appear to have had several private one-on-one conversations (the content of which has remained fairly secret, I might add -- the "leakiness" of this situation is pretty overblown). They know what each other is thinking on this; and where a former President is involved, it should suprise no one that the details take some time. Heck Rahmbo did the same sort of public agonizing. Not everyone is as emotionally private as Obama, and I suspect he knows that using that as a litmus test eliminates not only a lot of good people, but people who, importantly, bring a different perspective than his own, which seems to be what he wants.

The media can go on playing with themselves over this, and can proclaim the drama all the live long day, but color me unconcerned.

Posted by: zeitgest on November 22, 2008 at 12:04 PM | PERMALINK

My objections to HRC at State also mirror my biggest issue with her in the primary—her utter failure as a leader and manager (in both the campaign and the original healthcare push) and the morons that tag along after the Clintons—many of who arguably cost her—or helped enable her to lose—the nomination.

Running State is bigger than anything she's run badly before, and the people she surrounds herself with are critical. She's got a terrible track record on both of those factors and a bad foriegn policy to boot.

I thought I had come around on this pick, but I like it less and less.

Posted by: Mr Furious on November 22, 2008 at 2:05 PM | PERMALINK

No...it's YOU who are ignorant. When you have beeb around for 75 years and lived through a lot more politics, you SHOUD get a perpective that calling people names NEVER answers the question(s). It's known as argument ad hominan!

NOBODY--excepting Repubvlicans(are you one?)use personal attacks.

\If you want to discuss anything (with me--or anybody), don't fall back to the Repub;icansa' way: i.e,calling peoplew names instead of presenting ANY points you have.

That is: GROW UP!

Posted by: artfulme on November 22, 2008 at 7:11 PM | PERMALINK

Eric Holder is a horrid choice for AG. He was despised by many at the DOJ, especially many rank and file attorneys and employees. He is divisive, and is, shall we say, challenged at building esprit de corps that will be critical to restoration of the unity of purpose and intent throughout the entire personnel structure. The DOJ is much more that the few at the top. Napolitano should have been the choice for AG, she would have been light years better than Holder.

Will Holder be better policy wise than what we have had for the last eight years? Yes; but so would a small rodent. He is not the right person to rebuild the entire department. He will do okay. We needed somebody that be much better than that.

If you think Eric Holder is a "superb choice" you obviously are not an attorney that has not dealt with the DOJ much (I have), if at all, and clearly are not one that has ever worked with or around Holder (my friends have). Likely you really have no idea and are listening to political types, when it is a legal consideration at heart.

Posted by: bmaz on November 22, 2008 at 11:57 PM | PERMALINK

Eric Holder is a horrid choice for AG. He was despised by many at the DOJ, especially many rank and file attorneys and employees. He is divisive, and is, shall we say, challenged at building esprit de corps that will be critical to restoration of the unity of purpose and intent throughout the entire personnel structure. The DOJ is much more that the few at the top. Napolitano should have been the choice for AG, she would have been light years better than Holder.

Will Holder be better policy wise than what we have had for the last eight years? Yes; but so would a small rodent. He is not the right person to rebuild the entire department. He will do okay. We needed somebody that be much better than that.

If you think Eric Holder is a "superb choice" you obviously are not an attorney that has not dealt with the DOJ much (I have), if at all, and clearly are not one that has ever worked with or around Holder (my friends have). Likely you really have no idea and are listening to political types, when it is a legal consideration at heart.

Posted by: bmaz on November 22, 2008 at 11:57 PM | PERMALINK




 

 

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