Roundtable: Obama Transition Reflecting Change? President-elect Barack Obama rode to the White House championing the slogan, "Change You Can Believe In." But, so far, his transition team is full of hold-overs from the Clinton administration. Is his presidency more of a retake than a fresh take? Our bloggers weigh in.
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Roundtable: Obama Transition Reflecting Change?

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Roundtable: Obama Transition Reflecting Change?

Roundtable: Obama Transition Reflecting Change?

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This is News & Notes. I'm Farai Chideya. They were fierce rivals in the Democratic primary, but President-elect Barack Obama is now considering Senator Hillary Clinton for a top position in his Cabinet. And we've talked about folks around the world celebrating the Obama win, but some international reactions have been icy or downright racist. We've got these stories and more on today's Bloggers' Roundtable, with Rob Redding of Redding News Review, Patrice Yursik of and Charles Robinson of Charles Black Politics Blog. Hi guys.

Ms. PATRICE YURSIK (Blogger, Afrobella): Hi, Farai.

Mr. ROB REDDING (Blogger, Redding News Review): Hello.

Mr. CHARLES ROBINSON (Blogger, Charles Black Politics Blog): Hello.

CHIDEYA: So, since Mr. Obama's election to the White House, he's named John Podesta as the head of the White House transition team. Podesta used to be President Bill Clinton's chief of staff. Now, some news sources report that 31 of Obama's 47 appointments have ties to the Clinton administration. Charles, with these kind of appointments, can Obama still claim the slogan, Change You Can Believe In, or should it be, Clinton Redux?

Mr. ROBINSON: I think part of it is, is that we don't really have anybody who is appointed. We hear a lot of names that have been floated out, and yes, he's had to look at the Clinton administration in order to get his ducks in a row, because they've done it before. Understand that if you go in here blind, you can get landslided(ph), if you will, if you don't know how to set up. Clinton had that problem when he decided late in his transition to appoint some of the major figures in his Cabinet. Think about this: we're in the middle of an economic crisis and we've got two wars going on. You don't want to start on day one; you need to start, you know, a month ahead of time.

CHIDEYA: So, you - it sounds like you think that this is a good idea, that he's got some experience there.

Mr. ROBINSON: Well, it's not necessarily a good idea, but it's the most prudent idea. Think about it. You've got to know what to do, and if you've never done it before, why not call on the people who've at least tried it and at least had some success at it? As opposed to going in saying, OK, we're going to restart all over, and we're going to, you know, we're going to shift the decks on the Titanic. Guess what. The ship is still going to go down. What you want is somebody who can at least get the ship moving in the right direction as opposed to trying to ask, what do we do now?

CHIDEYA: There's also a lot of speculation about the Cabinet, and so, we had our first interview with Mr. Obama last night on "60 Minutes," and here's what he said about his Cabinet.

(Soundbite of TV show "60 Minutes," November 16, 2008)

Mr. STEVE KROFT (Correspondent, "60 Minutes"): You met with Senator Clinton this week.

President-elect BARACK OBAMA (Democratic Senator, Illinois): I did.

Mr. KROFT: Is she on the short list for a Cabinet position?

President-elect OBAMA: You know, she is somebody who I need advice and counsel from. She is one of the most thoughtful public officials that we have. Beyond that, you're not getting anything out of me, Steve.

Mr. KROFT: Will there be Republicans in the Cabinet?

President-elect OBAMA: Yes.

Mr. KROFT: More than one?

President-elect OBAMA: You're not getting more out of me.

CHIDEYA: That was very to the point. Patrice, what do you think of the - both the Clinton issue, whether or not Senator Hillary Clinton could be a good Secretary of State, and also the bipartisan issue?

Ms. YURSIK: I mean, I think it proves that Obama's really trying to take a page out of Lincoln's book by not just saying he's a bipartisan candidate, but he's proving it. He's doing whatever it takes to get America out of the crisis that it's in. I think it's wonderful to have a president who is proud to make considered decisions and is open to dissenting opinion for a change.

CHIDEYA: Rob, there's also the meeting with Senator John McCain. Although the meeting has happened, not a lot of news has come out yet about what actually they said, but what role do you think Senator McCain could play? And I'm not talking about necessarily an official role, but is having Senator McCain be a friendly to the Obama White House important?

Mr. REDDING: Oh, I think it is. I think it is also important that he play a role. I can definitely see him as Defense Secretary, and I think that he's deserving of such a post. In addition to that, I think he's probably more deserving of a Secretary of State role than perhaps Hillary Clinton is. I mean, if you didn't think Hillary Clinton, and some people out there didn't think she was qualified to be president of the United States, she's clearly not qualified to be secretary of state. But I digress. Charles, look, I was looking to support you to be the first press secretary. I'm surprised you'd want all this old blood in the White House.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. ROBINSON: Well, no, Rob, not this time. I think - look, one of the things we've learned anything about the Obama campaign is they don't let things leak. Think about how you learned about the vice president. You know, it was a text message. So, I'm assuming that if you're on that text-message list, you'll be getting the roll out of who the appointees are. But getting back to this thing about John McCain, let me say that, you know, that old adage, you know, you keep your friends close, but you keep your enemies closer. I think that's one of those adages, if you will, that's being played out here, because in the end, you at least know where the, you know, the arguments are coming from. And you know, not only did he have John McCain there, but he also had Senator Lindsay Graham there, who, you know - I don't care if Mitch McConnell was the leader of the Republican Party. Guess what. Those two got their finger on the pulse of the Republican Party as it's configured at this moment.

CHIDEYA: All right, Patrice, I want to move us on to this question of international reaction. There were a lot of people around the world, whether they were world leaders or individual people who were dancing in the street, when Obama was elected. And some of it has to do very much with the questions of America's place in the world, not just Obama himself, but there have been some salty or strange moments. The Italian prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi, called Barack Obama young, handsome and even suntanned. He was criticized for that statement and insisted it was a compliment.

Mr. ROBINSON: Ignorance is bliss.

CHIDEYA: Yeah, so what do you think, Patrice? Was this just, you know - Afrobella does beauty coverage. Was this just a beauty moment, or was there something more?

Ms. YURSIK: It's a moment of ignorance. I don't know if it can be termed beauty at all.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. YURSIK: I think, you know, there's going to be some uncomfortable moments like this. People are now going to have to learn, people who have not had to learn how to address, you know, people of color, are going to have to. And you know, even though Obama's victory was a huge step forward for equal rights, we're going to see racism pop up abroad, at home, in places that you may not have expected before. And you know, we're living in really interesting times. It must be a very frightening time to be a racist and to be afraid of people of color.

Mr. REDDING: You mean frightening, are you kidding me? This is kind of like a racist's dream. You know, they are using this as the poster child of why we need to take things back. I believe it was a German newspaper that actually was - you know, it had some really scurrilous things to say about the president-elect.

CHIDEYA: Well, let me point out a couple more, and I think this is maybe what you're referring to. There's a journalist in Austria who told his audience - he was on air - I think Americans are still racist and they must be very badly off to so spectacularly send a black man to the White House. And there was Polish lawmaker who reportedly said in a speech, quote, "this marks the end of the white man's civilization. Fear of the black planet." So, Charles, sounds like what you're saying has, you know, got some grounds for that...

Mr. ROBINSON: Rob, you still in Louisiana? Because you know, I could have heard this in Louisiana as well.

Mr. REDDING: Well, you do hear it in Louisiana, and let me just tell you. Someone that came into a restaurant earlier, I'm understanding, was told, because he was wearing a Barack Obama T-shirt that he couldn't get service there, and that kind of thing is going on. Look, you know, this Austrian journalist also said something even more interesting. He also said that, you know, this is the situation where I don't think blacks are qualified to run anything, including a government, and he said, if that sounds like a racist statement, it is.

Look, I think this is very cut and dry. I think that the world is having to deal with something that we've been doing over at R&R for awhile and that is deal with black issues as it relates to something that was on the back burner is now on the front burner. And the concept of what is niche news has changed; what was niche news yesterday is no longer niche news today. It is important that we deal with these issues, get them out on the table and flush them out. And these are not just little, happenstance, just, you know, just, oh, fly-by-night comments. These are long-held thoughts that need to be dealt with.

CHIDEYA: Patrice, this is a little bit of a digression, but I was watching one of the shows on one of the premium cable channels, and a white character just sort of tossed off the N word, and it just struck me that that was something that, that would not have happened ten years ago on television, but I'm also wondering if the kind of casual assumption that it's OK for everyone to, you know, sort of play in the racial sandbox is also going to affect pop culture.

Ms. YURSIK: I'm hoping to see some real change in the pop-culture arena, and in terms of, like, now we've got a black president; are we kind of finally - are we even going to finally start some black sit-com characters, or some black people starring on their own television shows? And you know, I mean - and on the runways, you know, in fashion. It's going to be - there's going to be a change; I think it's going to be a gradual change, but you know, these kinds of things, the uncomfortable moments, are going to come at the beginning. And I'm hoping that as Obama leads, you know, things will really change in a positive way.

CHIDEYA: It sounds like you're - go ahead.

Mr. ROBINSON: I was going to say, on the world's stage, you know, this - this busts the caricature that American media has sent out to the world, if you will. I mean, you know, I know that in some Asian countries, you know, we are portrayed as buffoonish and whatever else. And that's not universal, but those images that are being sent out are now being refuted by a person who's literally, you know, the most powerful man on the planet.

CHIDEYA: So, do you think, though, that that will take people who may be uncomfortable with this kind of change and make them kind of fire off more volleys? Or do you think it's something where people will evolve?

Mr. ROBINSON: I think they have to evolve. You know, it's - it's a new day. You can't - look if you want to play the game the old way, you're not going to be a player in the game. If you want to move forward, then, you know - one of the things I keep hearing from Muslim countries is that we wish we had an Obama-type character, someone who is from a minority, so that we could bring new blood into the process. And I think that is the hope that Obama brings to the world, that minorities in other governments across the world will have to recognize the minorities within their own countries.

CHIDEYA: All right. I want to remind everyone who we're talking to. Charles Robinson writes Charles Black Politics Blog. Patrice Yursik blogs at Rob Redding runs the blog Redding News Review. This, of course, is our Bloggers' Roundtable on NPR's News & Notes. Rob, there's been a controversy on the religious front in South Carolina. A catholic priest told his parishioners they shouldn't take communion if they voted for Barack Obama. The president-elect supports abortion rights, and the priest wrote, in a letter to parishioners, they are putting their souls at risk if they take Holy Communion before doing penance for their vote. So, does that cross the line between politics and religion?

Mr. REDDING: Absolutely, and the reason why is because another part of that letter, I believe, referred to him as Barack Hussein Obama, his full name, and people do that typically to slight him. In addition to that, it also said there were other choices that could have been made. That implied that there should be a - should have been a choice there for the flip-flopping John McCain on the same issue. Yeah, I think it's very cut and dry that this is inappropriate, it's political and it has no place in the pulpit in America.

CHIDEYA: Charles, many American Catholics actually support some forms of abortion rights, although the Church takes a very, very firm stance that abortion is completely morally wrong in all circumstances. Do you think this could actually prompt or situations like this could prompt American Catholics to have more of an internal dialogue?

Mr. ROBINSON: I think it's been going on for some time. You know, you think back to John Kerry when he was told that - by a priest that he would not give him the sacrament. I think part of it is that, you know, religion is butting up against the 21st century as to who you are and what you are as opposed to being the end all and the be all. I think - I don't want to say enlightened , but, you know, those folks who said, wait a minute, I, you know, I don't want to say you pick and choose which part of religion that you want to adhere to, but I think in the Catholic community, you know, I know that that's been going on.

People have decided, well, I agree with the, you know, the stance against no - capital punishment, but I don't agree with the thing on abortion. And you know, - and you have to balances two issues and you going to go, well, which one do you want to go with? And I think at the end of the day, though, you know, it'll be some rethinking. But you know, we often have religious leaders say stuff, you go, like, you kidding me; did you just hear what you said? I mean, I've heard Baptists, I've heard Protestants, I even heard Jewish leader say some things that you go, like, I can't believe you said that.

CHIDEYA: Patrice, another issue, inauguration. Everybody wants a ticket. Tens of thousands of request were coming into congressional offices. They're the main folks giving out the tickets and then you've got the senators giving out some. And of course, you know, a few patrons get some. But there are going to be estimated a million people in Chocolate City for the...


Mr. ROBINSON: A million-plus.


Mr. ROBINSON: A million-plus.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CHIDEYA: For the inauguration. It sounds good for the tax base, but would you want to go? Would you want to deal with crowds and the hassle and...

Ms. YURSIK: Oh yeah, I would love to be there. I wished I was at Grant Park for - I mean, you know, I would love to be there. I mean, just the - to be able to tell your children or your grandchildren that you were there to witness that history in person would be incredible. But you know, I'm going to be one of the million-plus people watching from around the world, and it's also my husband's birthday, so I plan on throwing a big party. I'm very excited for January 20th.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BLACK: Tell him he can stay at my house. I live...


Mr. ROBINSON: Outside of Washington. I'm only going to charge you $1,000 deposit on my pull-out sofa.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. YURSIK: Yeah.

Mr. ROBINSON: And...

Ms. YURSIK: It's a bargain.

Mr. ROBINSON: And I give you - I give you...

CHIDEYA: Yeah, well, Charles, you're not joking.

Mr. ROBINSON: I give you - you know, I'm not joking.

CHIDEYA: Because - because these prices, like on Craigslist and, I mean, the hotels are gone. It's a wrap.

Mr. ROBINSON: Right, yeah.

CHIDEYA: Because there's the...

Mr. ROBINSON: Just to give an example both of them. Both Washington and Baltimore, don't even think about a hotel. I had a guy who said he wanted to - he found a hotel; it was $700 a night. It's in the town called Hagerstown, which is about a good 40 miles, 45 miles, outside of Washington. But he lived in Baltimore. I told him stay home; catch the train over.

CHIDEYA: Totally.

Mr. ROBINSON: The interesting part - the interesting part is - is that if you've got any kind of space, people are giving it up. I've gotten at least three emails this morning say if you know, somebody who wants to come, I've got an extra room, I've got an extra apartment. And yes, we're anticipating not just, you know, the person who's got a ticket, but think about this, you know, people who getting on buses coming here. I mean, the closest thing I can remind myself of is when the Million Man March happened, and you know, they made all the busses stay outside of Washington, and you had to get on public transportation to get into the city.

We're talking, I'm thinking, two million folks. You know, I've got a relative who's in law enforcement; he says we don't know what to expect, you know, and understand you've got to get a ticket to get to the Mall, but as soon as the Mall is over with, Pennsylvania Avenue. And I'm telling you, that's the free for all.

CHIDEYA: And do not take a taxi...

Mr. ROBINSON: Because there's no ticket...

CHIDEYA: I can say after...

Mr. ROBINSON: Do not try to take a taxi...

CHIDEYA: Living in Washington.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CHIDEYA: It'll take you for what used to be maybe a five-minute ride. First of all, you won't go anywhere. You won't even get, you know, a couple of inches...


CHIDEYA: And then you'll be charged a ton of money. Rob, would you go? Would you want to go?

Mr. ROBINSON: Rob's going to stay with me. I figured that Rob's going to call me and say, Charles, can I sleep with you folks?

Mr. REDDING: I'm going to say, yeah, I don't know if you've got any space, Charles, but I've got the floor.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. REDDING: So, I can't wait.

CHIDEYA: Oh, well, all right, guys. Thank you so much.

Ms. YURSIK: Thank you.

Mr. REDDING: Thank you.

Mr. ROBINSON: You're welcome.

CHIDEYA: We were talking to Rob Redding, who maintains the blog Redding News Review, Patrice Yursik, who blogs at - she was at WLRN in Miami - and Charles Robinson who writes, Charles Black Politics Blog. He was at WEAA in Baltimore, Maryland. And you can find links to their Web site at ours, And next on News & Notes, we talk to the writer of a one-man show about his own life entertaining troops in the Air Force, and we also talked with the woman who spent decades fighting to help children, Marian Wright Edelman.

(Soundbite of music)

CHIDEYA: You're listening to News & Notes from NPR News.

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