Thursday, November 6, 2008

Obama's Presidency

Now that the election is over, the media's attention and frenzy for news turns to Obama's Presidency, his agenda, and most importantly Cabinet picks! Already rumors that Rahm Emanuel would be Obama's Chief of Staff were confirmed when he formally announced his acceptance for this tremendous position of responsibility.

What's interesting is that already we see a hint of how Obama would govern as President of the United States from his quick actions post Election Day.

He has campaigned on transparency and public involvement in the government process. In this regard, Obama is providing a way to get the American public to get engaged in their own government with the Change Government Website.

Moreover, it appears that the tradition of giving plum Ambassadorships to large donors is a thing of the past.
There is major agita among some key elements of President-elect Barack Obama's juggernaut. For example, the big-money types and "bundlers," the fundraisers who helped put together Obama's stunning financial advantage, are expecting their reward -- say a nice, cushy ambassadorship in Rome or Paris or London. (By tradition, about one-third of the nation's 190 ambassadors are political appointees. They're the ones who get the fine European postings.)

But the chatter is that they'd better not count on it. The traditional sale of most ambassadorships, so aptly carried on during the Bush administration, may not continue. Early speculation is that Obama may be more inclined to follow the Clinton model and select people, often political types, with some foreign policy credentials or knowledge of a country's language or culture.
Rahm Emanuel's selection as Obama's Chief of Staff again shows the judgment that Obama exercises by selecting a capable, savvy, experienced, and loyal partner to be a part of his team. Rahm (aka "Rahm-bo") has a reputation for toughness and for getting things done. This sends a clear signal that Obama is focused on delivering results. Clearly this has the GOP scared, and fearful of the demonstrable results that Obama will be able to deliver with a Chief of Staff like Rahm Emanuel.

Already, some of the GOP were trying to pain Emanuel as partisan and a "bad choice" on the part of Obama. Rep. Boehner (R-OH) demonstrated how petty and childish the GOP plans to be going forward by releasing the statement.
“This is an ironic choice for a president-elect who has promised to change Washington, make politics more civil and govern from the center.”
The RNC was quick to put out a statement that was made no bones to hide their unhappiness upon hearing the news:
“Barack Obama’s first decision as President-elect undermines his promise to ‘heal the divides,'" said RNC spokesman Alex Conant. "Rahm Emanuel is a partisan insider who played a lead role in breaking Washington. The White House needs a chief of staff – not a chief campaigner like Emanuel. Our nation will be ill-served if Obama runs the White House the way ‘Rahmbo’ ran the Democratic Congress.”
Interestingly, the Washington Post, also observed the same thing, and gave it's advice, although I am doubtful that Boehner and company have any rational sensibilities left.
The less-than-gracious GOP statements, and the turmoil in the House leadership ranks, underscore the choice ahead for the Republican minority: whether to try to cooperate with the new president or, with moderates an endangered species in the party, to form an unyielding opposition. We are not in the business of giving either party advice on how to tend to its electoral interests, but the public does not seem positively inclined toward political jockeying and reflexive obstructionism. Republicans should, of course, stand up for their principles, although the party, in the aftermath of its loss, will inevitably spend some time debating exactly what those are. But the country -- and, we suspect, the party as well -- would benefit from a sincere effort to find common ground with the new administration on some of the daunting issues facing the country in the months ahead.
The response from Lindsey Graham gives an inkling of the growing divide in the Republican party between cultural warriors such as Boehner, and more traditional or moderate conservatives within the Senate.
"This is a wise choice by President-elect Obama. Rahm knows Capitol Hill and has great political skills. He can be a tough partisan but also understands the need to work together. He is well-suited for the position of White House Chief of Staff.

I worked closely with him during the presidential debate negotiations which were completed in record time. When we hit a rough spot, he always looked for a path forward. I consider Rahm to be a friend and colleague. He's tough but fair. Honest, direct, and candid. These qualities will serve President-elect Obama well."
Some Democrats have concerns whether Emanuel is an appropriate choice given that he served as part of Clinton's White House Staff. This is where I think Democrats need to be careful in not making the same mistake as Bush and Cheney did when they entered the White House. Bush and Cheney were practically religious zealots about removing people from government positions if they were in any way associated with Democrats or the Clintons. It wasn't about experience or knowledge, it was about ideology. Hence, the illegal firings in the justice department, and the litmus tests they imposed on party loyalty.

This kind of slash and burn style brings problems because you risk losing qualified individuals with talent. For example in the business world, a successful merger of two organizations takes into consideration the top talent and best practices between the two companies, in order to create something greater than the sum of the two parts. Any company that ignores or denies the value that the other company can bring to the table, does so at their own peril.

Let's be clear, what makes Obama so refreshing, and what he means by Change is "Pragmatism". Forget any of the other terms, liberal, socialist, centrist, etc. Obama is first and foremost pragmatic.

He's about what works and what doesn't. Don't expect Obama to be prejudiced against anyone because of who they worked for or which party they belong to. It's clear that for Obama, it's about who is going to be effective, add value, display judgment, knowledge, and experience. This is the BIG change. It's about what you know, and how you will contribute to making a difference.

Change means saying no to governance based on ideology
Change means valuing experience, valuing collaborative approaches, and knowledge
Change means taking the best practice approach

This means that Obama will be looking back at history and taking the best approach for what works.

Ideology has no place in governance, and Obama provided us a glimpse of his pragmatic nature when asked of his philosophy for selecting Justices for the Supreme Court. In an interview with Brian Williams, Obama made it clear that "Roe v. Wade" was not a litmus test for him, that it was more about past experiences, judgment, and their philosophy with regards to the US Constitution.
WILLIAMS: Senator, a question about the Supreme Court. Everyone running for President always says, especially on the narrow issue of abortion rights -- no litmus test. It's said on both sides of the issue. And if that's true, if you're not going to call a future Justice into the Oval Office, if you're successful in this endeavor and bring up the subject, how then do you also avoid surprises? I don't think George H.W. Bush, 41, ever dreamed that in Justice Souter he was appointed a dependable liberal vote.

OBAMA: Right.

BRIAN WILLIAMS: And as -- Eisenhower for years called Justice Brennan, his biggest mistake in office. Two surprises that just come to mind.

OBAMA: Right. Well, look, I think that you -- what you can ask a judge is about their judicial philosophy. And as somebody who taught constitutional law for ten years, who actually knows a lot of the potential candidates for Supreme Court on the right as well as on the left 'cause I've taught with them or interacted with them in some way -- I can tell you that how a Justice approaches their job, how they describe the path of interpreting the Constitution, I think can tell you a lot.

And so my criteria, for example, would be -- if a Justice tells me that they only believe the strict letter of the Constitution -- that means that they possibly don't mean -- believe in -- a right to privacy that may not be perfectly enumerated in the Constitution but, you know, that I think is there.

I mean, the right to marry who you please isn't in the Constitution. But I think all of us assume that if a state decided to pass a law saying, 'Brian, you can't marry the woman you love,' that you'd think that was unconstitutional. Well, where does that come from? I think it comes from a right to privacy. That may not be listed in the Constitution but is implied by the structure of the Constitution.
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