With over a month to go before President-elect Barack Obama’s inauguration, the media are focusing on his cabinet picks. With the term ‘team of rivals’ ‘-‘- a notion coined during President Abraham Lincoln’s administration, which relied on a contentious cabinet full of old foes ‘-‘- being used to describe the new Obama administration, it seems the next executive may lead less on his own and more by consensus. The nation should benefit greatly from the additional checks and balances Obama has worked into the executive branch.
Monday’s announcement of U.S. Sen. Hillary Clinton, who bitterly battled Obama during the Democratic primaries, shows how committed Obama is to this promise. Clinton has been noted for her hardline stance on Iran’s nuclear program, while Obama has been looking to open negotiations with Iranian officials. The Democratic duo must overcome their campaign trail differences and work for what is really in the best interest of the United States.
Other cabinet members, like newly named Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano, the current governor of Arizona, have also differed sharply at times with Obama’s own platform. In June, Napolitano signed a bill in Arizona declaring the state’s non-compliance with the federal Real ID program, which aims to standardize states’ identification cards. As secretary, Napolitano will be in charge of leading the very program she staunchly rejected as governor.
Make no mistake: Obama’s power to govern according to his own values will at times suffer when he clashes with the powerful egos filling his cabinet. On the campaign trail, Obama made many promises and claims that helped fuel his platform of ‘change.’ Accomplishing all of his goals would be difficult even for a president without checked power. In order to create real progress and accomplish the agenda of change, the new administration must take steps to avoid costly heel-dragging and stagnancy over Obama’s term.
But just because infighting may undermine Obama’s own influence does not mean the American public will suffer for it. The United States has always benefited from strong checks and balances among and within each branch of government.
Americans witnessed the opposite of this ideal during most of President George W. Bush’s administration, when the Texas governor used his razor-thin victory in 2000 to fill his cabinet with extreme conservatives who were almost all fiercely loyal to him. This blind loyalty led to many foreign policy blunders, the most notable being the invasion of Iraq and the neglect of the new regime in Afghanistan.
Obama certainly has the majority in this latest election to claim a mandate to stack his cabinet with like minds. But in his choosing to build an administration of ‘rivals,’ Obama is indeed putting America first.