Obama's Team Filling Up With Clintonistas

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President-elect Barack Obama has pledged to bring change to Washington, but his administration appears to have a lot of familiar names from the Clinton years. Presidential historian Robert Dallek discusses the composition of the new White House.


Sometime between this election of Rahm Emanuel, formerly of the Clinton White House, to be White House chief-of-staff and Eric Holder, formerly number two at the Clinton Justice Department to be number one, and the talk of Hillary Clinton for secretary of state, sometime over the past week, a jaded cry of disappointment has been heard eminating from some Obama's skeptics, a cry of, this is change? Is it possible that a campaign that pigeon holed John McCain as leader of a third Bush term is evolving into a third Clinton term?

Well, joining us now is presidential historian Robert Dallek. And Robert Dallek, what do you think? Are you struck by the number of what some people call Clinton retreads?

Dr. ROBERT DALLEK (Presidential Historian): Well, it's certainly clear that Clinton-era folks are getting the inside track in this Obama administration. But it seems to me that it does not undermine the proposition Obama ran on - that he represents change. It's change from the George W. Bush administration rather than change from what the Democratic Party necessarily stands for.

SIEGEL: I've heard this comparison, though. John F. Kennedy was elected, well, as a candidate who represented generational change...

Dr. DALLEK: Yes.

SIEGEL: Among other things, and when he came in, he didn't recruit his staff so heavily from the Truman administration, which had left town eight years earlier. What do you think of that comparison?

Mr. DALLEK: Yeah, that's certainly true. John Kennedy did not revert to people in the Truman administration. What he did, though, was to try and set up a government of national unity, and what's so striking is that he brought in Douglas - C. Douglas Dillon, a Wall Street banker, a Republican as secretary of the treasury. He made Robert McNamara, the CEO of the Ford Motor Corporation, his secretary of defense. McGeorge Bundy from Harvard, who was also a moderate Republican, he made him national security adviser.

So he didn't go back to the Truman years, but he certainly reached out to the prominent or important Republicans to create this government of national unity. Also, I think one can point to the fact that a lot of the people around Truman were really older folks who had been in politics for a longer time and been on the national scene for a longer time. So, there is a certain sense to the fact that Obama would turn to Clinton people who still are relatively young.

SIEGEL: Is Tom Daschle change, do you think? Does he bespeak change or old familiar Democrats from Washington?

Mr. DALLEK: Well, he's both. I think he is an old familiar Democrat. People know him, remember him. He was a prominent figure in the U.S. Senate as the Democratic Party's leader, but he also represents change in that he could not be more distant from this George W. Bush administration than anybody on the Washington scene.

SIEGEL: What do you think about some Obama supporters, as they follow the possibility of Senator Clinton becoming secretary of state, saying, that was our clear difference with her during the campaign, and we differed with her in what she'd made of the possibility of war in Iraq, of what she thought about how we will deal with Iran. Substantive differences. Why is the one who lost getting the foreign policy brief?

Mr. DALLEK: Yes. Well, it's not uncommon for that to happen. Woodrow Wilson, for example, made William Jennings Bryan secretary of state, and Bryan was someone who Wilson was beholden to because he helped him win the nomination after 44 ballots at the 1912 Democratic convention. So, it's not uncommon that you bring a political rival into a position of power. You know, as they say, it's not your friends you have to worry about. It's your enemies.

SIEGEL: Historian Robert Dallek, thank you very much.

Mr. DALLEK: My pleasure.

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