With the latest news that Robert Gates has agreed to stay on as Secretary of Defense, should liberals be getting concerned that so far President Elect Obama’s cabinet has the look of governing from the center? I think Obama is right where he needs to be.
So far, the major posts in the Obama administration will be filled by centrists. Rahm Emanuel, Tom Daschle, Eric Holder, Bill Richardson, and Hillary Clinton are ideologically in the center of the Democratic Party. For many liberals Obama’s choices look like a return to the days of Bill Clinton, but there are a few points that must be understood before one criticizes the makeup of the Obama administration. First, Obama seems made his selections based on experience. The next president seems to have a practical and pragmatic approach that is focused on results not ideology. Obama picked people who have both Washington experience, and experience in their policy areas.
It appears that he has learned from the mistakes of the two previous transitions. Clinton tried to bring a new crowd into Washington, which struggled mightily early on due to their lack of experience. In contrast, George W. Bush came to Washington with loyalists and ideologues. He rewarded personal loyalty, and was left with quite possibly the most inept administration of the past 100 years. Bush and company had no idea how to govern, which led to disaster after disaster culminating in their bungled response to Hurricane Katrina.
I think it is a wise move to keep Gates on at Defense, while the country is in the middle of two wars, but I would be amazed if Gates lasted more than a year. He is sticking around to provide some continuity to the military while the Obama administration takes office. Gates has done a very good job cleaning up the mess that Rumsfeld left behind, and the reality is that now is not the time to overhaul the Defense Department. My hunch is that after Gates departs, Chuck Hagel will be the next Secretary of Defense.
If Obama’s choices seem centrist, it is because he is a centrist. Obama isn’t the liberal that some of his supporters and critics make him out to be. Quite frankly, the United States is still not a liberal country. We are still a center leaning nation, whose presidents succeed when they are able to govern from the middle. George W. Bush has been viewed as taking the nation too far to the right, and John McCain lost the election because most voters saw him as too far to the right. Obama appears poised to govern from the middle, which to me is right where he needs to be.