November 23, 2008

Giving Pragmatism and Brains a Chance

After the American Century

The rapprochement between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama apparently has been taking place since June. Clearly neither has such a sensitive ego that it prevents them from seeing the advantages of working together. I admit that I am surprised both that he would ask her to become his Secretary of State and that she would accept. I always thought that being a Senator, especially a high-profile Senator from a large state, was a better position than serving in the cabinet. Being Secretary of State is the most important job there, to be sure, but it is potentially only a four year run, and at best eight years. In contrast, Clinton has such a strong hold on her Senate seat that she could keep it for life.

So far, it seems that Obama's criteria for getting a post in his administration are that one has to be very smart, preferably with an Ivy League education, and not too much of an ideologue. He seems to prefer pragmatists who have Washington experience. He has drawn on many from the Clinton White House, which is not surprising, since to find other Democrats with such experience he would have to go back to 1980, the last year of Carter's administration. Most of his staff are now retired. As with all cabinets, this one almost assuredly looks better before it takes power that it likely will in four years time. But after eight years of ideologues and a less than brilliant president, surely it is time to give pragmatism and brains a chance. This will be novel for Washington lobbyists and for Fox News, not to mention any Republicans who still believe that Obama is a socialist.

As the appointment process proceeds, the contrast increases between the staggering economy and hope that the Obama will be able to turn it around. His announcement yesterday of a major economic stimulus package, ideally to be passed as soon as possible after January 20, clearly is calculated to hearten the market, and to help bridge the 8 week gap between now and the moment he assumes control. Call it "change they need to believe in." If the meltdown continues, Obama may inherit a nationwide crisis so palpable that his plans will be passed quickly. If the economy miraculously improves, he will presumably face a bit more opposition. But either way, I think we can expect passage of a stimulus package that features green energy technologies, tax cuts for the middle class, and incentives for industries to create jobs.