Read Stephen's bio and previous columns
November 24, 2008
Obamas Team: How Clintonian is Too
Even before word got out that Hillary Clinton was likely President-elect
Barack Obama's choice for Secretary of State, whispers were circulating
in political circles: What's with all the Clintonites?
Obama, a few days after his victory, named former Bill Clinton White
House aide Rahm Emanuel as his chief of staff, and named an ex-Clinton
chief of staff, John Podesta, as one of the chiefs of his transition
Attorney General pick Eric Holder worked in Justice in the Clinton
years, while aides Ron Klain and Gregory Craig, among others, spent time
in Bill's White House too. Former Clinton cabinet secretary Bill
Richardson is reportedly going to be Commerce Secretary, and in the
coup de grace, Hillary Clinton herself looks likely to take the
Secretary of State post.
The whispers emanated from various segments of the left and right
whether from Obama-loving liberals worried that their man was caving to
the centrist Clintonism of the past, or Obama-hating conservatives
gloating that the new president's own loyalists weren't strong enough.
Either way, the argument goes, "Where's the change?"
You can say what you want about the idea of Hillary as Secretary of
State. I have mixed feelings. But to consider the Obama presidency some
sort of restoration of the Clinton presidency is kind of absurd.
First of all, Obama's inner circle remains what it was during the
campaign. Neither Obama nor Joe Biden is a Clinton Administration
veteran, and neither are top advisors David Axelrod or Valerie Jarrett.
Emanuel, while a Clinton vet, is also a longtime Obama friend, from
Chicago, who pointedly endorsed neither candidate in the Democratic
Secondly, this isn't especially different from standard new-president
procedure. Just about every new president hires people who have worked
in government before, but not since their party was last in power. Obama
was accused throughout the campaign of lacking experience and now he's
being mocked for bringing in people who are . . . experienced?
Clinton was president for eight years. He's also the only Democratic
president in the past 30 years. Of the party's "bench" of potential
staffers and Cabinet secretaries, a certain percentage have worked in
government before and unless they're old enough to be Carter veterans,
a good percentage of them probably worked in the last Democratic
don't remember Obama ever saying on the campaign trail that he wouldn't
hire anyone who was a government veteran. Promises of "change" were
always about policy, attitude, temperament and competence. They were
never about personnel.
Plus, many of the appointees have not exactly been idle since Clinton
left office. They have accomplished things in their own right. Emanuel
was a leader in Congress who masterminded the party's 2006 House
takeover. Podesta founded a successful think tank, the Center for
American Progress, essentially from scratch. Craig broke with the
Clintons to endorse Obama early in the primaries, while Richardson the
governor of New Mexico did later on, and Ron Klain was always more
associated with Al Gore anyway.
And while they could theoretically emerge as part of a Hillary State
Department, a whole lot of names associated with the Clintons the
Carvilles and Begalas, the Terry McAuliffes, the Lanny Davises, the
Sidney Blumenthals have not emerged on the Obama roster, and probably
George W. Bush was mocked, early in his presidency, for bringing in a
wide variety of staffers and top officials who had earlier served under
his father. But unlike most mockery directed at Bush, this always struck
me as thin. Every president brings in a whole lot of people from the
previous administration of their party. And a large percentage of
Cabinet posts generally go to whoever was next in line from the last
When Obama named Emanuel and Axelrod to his team in the early days, he
was accused of bringing Chicago to Washington. But when more names
were announced, he was suddenly over-relying on ex-Clintonites. Well,
which one is it?
North Star Writers Group. May not be republished without permission.
Click here to talk to our writers and
editors about this column and others in our discussion forum.
To e-mail feedback
about this column,
click here. If you enjoy this writer's
work, please contact your local newspapers editors and ask them to carry
This is Column #
Request permission to publish here.