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Political Physics: The Obama-Clinton Flow Chart Conundrum


A blogumn by Monique King-Viehland

EVEN before a single candidate was selected (or the infamous “flow chart” was leaked), Obama was under fire for rumored candidates.  Women’s groups protested the possible appointment of Harvard University economist Lawrence Summers as Treasury secretary, recalling comments he made as Harvard president that innate characteristics may prevent women from achieving more prominence in science.

Now with only 11 choices made of his 28 Cabinet positions, Obama is already taking a lot of heat for his choices thus far.  He’s being accused of being a hypocrite for selecting many veterans of the Clinton administration and other governmental veterans. Maureen Dowd chastised Obama in her New York Times column, noting “the man who vowed to deliver us from 28 years of Bushes and Clintons has been stocking up on Clintonites.”  Then there are the voices out there up in arms about the lack of diversity among the selected candidates and the rumored contenders.    In US News & World Report, Bonnie Erbe stated that women who voted for Obama were “destined for disappointment” the two female top choices for Obama cabinet positions, Penny Pritzker at Commerce and Janet Napolitano at Justice, did not indicate any progress for women given that both positions had been held by women in the past.

Okay, people.  The man has only selected 11 candidates out of 28.  Yes, I know, technically that represents nearly 40% of the Cabinet, but give him a chance.  During the campaign, Obama pledged that as he considered Cabinet appointments he would balance post-partisanship with the needs of the groups that helped deliver his victory.  I think he is trying to honor that pledge.  Even if you just look at the 11 choices that he has made thus far, there are two women, one African American, one Latino, one Republican, etc.  Do I agree with all of his choices, no.  I would have passed on Lawrence Summers and I probably would not have selected Hilary Clinton (sorry Clintonites) as Secretary of State, but I understand and respect his rationale.   And most Americans agree with me.  In a recent CNN poll, 43% of those questioned were very confident that Obama would make the right choices, with 34 percent somewhat confident and only 23 percent not confident.

And to the too-many-Clintonites question, I think Charlie Cook summed it up best in his analysis for MSNBC.  Obama only has so many options:
a.    Pick someone with executive branch experience during this Bush administration.
b.    Pick someone who had experience from the eight years (1993-2001) of the Clinton administration.
c.    Pick someone from the 12 years of the Reagan and previous Bush administrations (1981-1993) or perhaps a vet of the Carter administration (1977-1981).
d.    Pick someone with no executive branch experience, but with either legislative or judicial branch experience.

A president-elect who is already viewed as a neophyte does not have the luxury to pick other neophytes (or at least not a lot of them) to fill his Cabinet, nor should he.  Obama is going to want people – preferably Democrats – with the most relevant experience, particularly at the federal level, with impeccable qualifications, reputation in their field, etc.

So why pick so many Clinton administration veterans? According to Charlie, because that’s where the experienced Democrats are and I agree.  Obama is not choosing Clintonites per se, he is choosing veterans, but not the stick in the mud, rooted in the past, refusing to change kind.  But the kind with enough experience in DC to successfully navigate the complex political landscape and drive Obama’s agenda.


Comic Credit: Bearman 2007/ – click on comic to make larger