President-elect Barack Obama continues to do the right thing. His newly announced national security team is first rate. Here is a man who said he likes to surround himself with people who have "strong personalities and strong opinions."
He did not want to slip into the habit of "group think" in the White House. In other words, he did not want a George Bush White House where disagreement with the Commander-in-Chief was stifled for the sake of group loyalty. A cabinet has to represent a united front when the President enunciates policy, but that unity must be the result of vigorous debate beforehand. The formulation of policy can be contentious, the implementation cannot. Barack Obama understands the difference. It takes a confident leader to open himself up to challenge from the people around him.
The six new members of his national security team formed an interesting portrait of diversity; two African-Americans, Eric Holder, Jr. as Attorney General and Susan Rice as Ambassador to the United Nations. Two other women were part of the team, Governor Janet Napolitano as Secretary of Homeland Security and Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State. Gender and race were not the only indicators of diversity. Republicans, Democrats and Independents stood side by side. Gen. James Jones, a retired Marine commandant, was named National Security Adviser and Robert Gates Secretary of Defense. It is rare for the person who holds that position to be carried over from one administration to the next.
Obama made good on his promise that he would reach across the aisle and try to reduce partisan divides. Most significantly, he has identified the most talented and intelligent people to serve the country in perilous times.
Much has been made of his choice of Senator Hillary Clinton as his former "adversary." At this press conference both Obama and Clinton made it clear that those days are behind them. Obama joked that the press enjoyed dredging up quotes about who said what to whom in the heated days of the campaign. He said, "You guys are having fun with this."
What a relief it is to have elected a President who respects brain power. Just as he did with his economic team, he made some bold choices. How well they will work together is yet to be seen, but we already know that each cabinet selection thus far, will bring gravitas as well as luster to the Obama administration.
This was originally posted at Chelsea Green.
Madeleine M. Kunin is the former Governor of Vermont and was the state's first woman governor. She served as Ambassador to Switzerland for President Clinton, and was on the three-person panel that chose Al Gore to be Clinton's VP. She is the author of Pearls, Politics, and Power: How Women Can Win and Lead from Chelsea Green Publishing.