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The Obama Administration: An End to Dynastic Politics?

12/20/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Barack Obama's early moves to co-opt former adversaries Hillary Clinton and Joe Lieberman are, at least potentially, very smart. They also signal a different way of doing business than we've seen over the past 20 years. The Bush, Clinton, and Bush presidencies weren't just four- or eight-year stints running the government but also clannish, dynastic enterprises with aspirations for potential future presidencies, legacy maintenance, et al. They put a heavy emphasis on personal loyalty and were quick to punish even perceived slights. They had -- and still have -- countless retainers, hangers-on, enforcers, and supplicants willing to say or do or say anything for the team. Think: Lanny Davis. Or recall how Bush 41 functionary Lawrence Eagleburger's honest appraisal of Sarah Palin was immediately followed by a humiliatingly abject and unbelievable recantation.

There's no way to separate the dynasty factor from the pervasive, culture war-driven toxicity of presidential-level politics over the past generation. But it obviously played a role in the atmosphere of more or less constant pettiness and recrimination we've all been living with.

Now, of course there are Obama loyalists too, an "Obamaworld" with its own rules. But Obama has no dynastic project going. Michelle Obama is by all accounts very smart and capable, but there's been no "two for the price of one" talk. At least for now, it's just him. And he seems determined to move away from the politics of backbiting -- something that may just work, given the gravity of the problems the nation faces.

I think/hope these conditions will create a more open, flexible political operation. Neither Hillary Clinton nor Joe Lieberman will ever be an Obama loyalist in the way you have Bush loyalists and Clinton loyalists. But, assuming Clinton takes the Secretary of State job, they will both owe him. And because the obligation is a professional one, graciously offered, to turn around and start undermining him would appear particularly graceless. (Of course, if anyone is capable of that, it's Lieberman -- we'll see.)

The Obama approach also puts White House politics, with its usual emphasis on high drama and personalities, into perspective. It says: we're all grownups here. We have a lot of work to do, and we need all hands on deck. If you do well, I do well, and we all come out ahead. This sounds like management 101, something you might hear on The Office. But sometimes cliches ring true: there really is a lot of work to do, and the stakes are higher than most of us have seen in our lifetimes. Now let's see if the "grownup" approach really works.

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