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Obama Needs a New Brain Trust

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Barack Obama is off to a rocky start. Both the Tom Daschle fiasco and the hastily concocted stimulus plan, which is in dire need of remedy, indicate that his own team is either inadequate or failed to prepare for his first weeks in office, which essentially amounts to the same thing. He needs to reboot before he gives the GOP any more room on the political playing field. Obama should emulate Franklin D. Roosevelt and create a new Brain Trust.

The problem with Obama's approach is be that he has relied too much on Clinton administration retreads such as former Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers rather than following the approach Roosevelt adopted. As Russell Baker observes in the New York Review of Books, Franklin D. Roosevelt was a true innovator. He reached out to genuinely eclectic thinkers such as Harry Hopkins and Rexford Tugwell, who had not previously served in Washington, to create his team of advisers. The result was that he received a variety of ideas that allowed him to experiment with different policies. Some worked. Some didn't. But according to Baker, "It was a group to chill the blood of today's conservative journalists who have been praising Obama's choice of advisers, most of whom are old Washington hands...." Why not reach out to someone like Harvard economic historian Niall Ferguson for fresh proposals?

Another reason for Obama to reassess his team is the lamentable failures that have occurred in vetting his nominees. Take Daschle. Why is it that Obama was blindsided by Daschle's tax problems? It should never have become an issue in the first place. The culprits should be identified and purged.

Any presidency is going to have some teething pains. But Obama is in danger of seeing his first 100 days derailed. So far, he's been on the defensive, apologizing for the ways of old Washington, when he promised to usher in a new era rather than clinging to the past. He needs to get back to his promise of change. He could begin by recruiting some fresh brainpower, and quickly. Obama wasn't elected to restore the Clinton era, but to usher in his own.