Assessing Obama's Cabinet Choices Columnists David Brooks and E.J. Dionne note that the president-elect is putting together a team of former rivals with common ties to President Clinton's administration and two Ivy League pillars.
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Assessing Obama's Cabinet Choices

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Assessing Obama's Cabinet Choices

Assessing Obama's Cabinet Choices

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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Here's a listener's email that came in yesterday Chris Grimm of Westport, Connecticut writes, I know the election is over, but where are Brooks and Dionne? My Friday evening commute is less pleasant without their insightful commentaries. So, here to bring enlightenment to everyone's talk on the Merritt Parkway are David Brooks of the New York Times and E.J. Dionne of the Washington Post. Welcome to both of you.

Mr. DAVID BROOKS (Reporter, New York Times): That's a lot of people stuck on the Merritt Parkway.

SIEGEL: It is. And we're going...

Mr. E.J. DIONNE (Reporter, Washington Post): Less and emailer.

SIEGEL: I'm going to start with you by playing for you something Barack Obama said today in a 90 second taped video message.

President-elect BARACK OBAMA: In the coming years, my administration will bring a fresh perspective on America's role and responsibilities around the world. But if we are to truly meet our shared challenges, we must all work together.

SIEGEL: I could tell you that he was talking about Hillary Clinton becoming secretary of state, but it would be a lie.

President-elect OBAMA: By uniting the world in a peaceful celebration of human achievement, the Olympic Games reminds us that this is possible.

SIEGEL: And the art of the possible in this instance was pitching Chicago's case to host the Summer Olympics in 2016. But let's stick with the other possibility. E.J., first of all Secretary of State Clinton in the Obama administration.

Mr. DIONNE: You know from her point of view what this may reflect is that we've forgotten how important this job has been in our history and that she wants to be a George Marshall kind of secretary of state. Remember it's the Marshall plan not the Truman plan. A lot of very important figures in our history, Henry Kissinger, John Hay, William Seward have had that job and I think that she decided that it would take years to build up the kind of influence she wanted in the Senate. For Barack Obama, he is much taken by this team of rivals concept, that Doris Kearns Goodwin put forward. He's got Biden who ran against him as vice president, Richardson now at commerce, Clinton as secretary of state, maybe Dennis Kucinich will become head of the Peace Corps but he is clearly bringing in every part of the part especially those who ran against him.

SIEGEL: David, you agree it makes sense to you?

Mr. BROOKS: Maybe, rivals. The question is team, will they work together? Hillary Clinton has all the things so far that we've seen in Obama appointees, she served in the first Clinton administration or in the Clinton administration. She went to either Harvard or Yale Law School, and she supported the Iraq war. So, they all seem to have that in common, but they have something else in common and she has something else in common with a lot of the other people, she's been appointed which is broad respect from Republicans and Democrats. I think in general the appointees have been outstanding and on foreign affairs in particular, Republican senators as well as Democratic senators took a look at how Senator Clinton then dealt with foreign affairs and they admire the way she did it. So, she will come in I think especially on foreign policy with a great deal of support from both sides.

Mr. DIONNE: And there are two very popular names around the world, one is Obama and the other is Clinton. And I think this is a very powerful ticket if you will, to present to the world.

SIEGEL: David, you write very glowingly of the Obama team in today's New York Times, you said this is a team that looks like America or that part of America that got 800 on both your SATs.

Mr. BROOKS: Yes, they all have gone to Harvard and Yale. It seems that E.J. would be under educated in this group.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BROOKS: My line was that if someone attacks this country during the Harvard-Yale game we're in big trouble because they're all going to be there. But, it is a very impressive group and I would say just to generalize about them, they tend to be Washington insiders, but they also tend to be very change oriented, they also tend to be very evidence based. So, even if you disagree with them they are people you can talk to and who Republicans can respect and I think that includes Geithner, I think it includes a supposed budget director Peter Orzag, it even includes Clinton on foreign affairs.

Mr. DIONNE: You know, what strikes me is David has emphasized the education levels and the fact that they're pragmatic and they are that in evidence base, but on the whole many of these people are also very progressive. People - somebody like Peter Orzag is a kind of progressive pragmatist, Tom Daschle who is being talked about today as HHS secretary that was a very strong signal that Obama really wants to do health care reform. Geithner is fascinating because it seemed to be a competition between Larry Summers, his mentor, and Tim Geither. He's very - it's hard to find anyone at least I haven't found anyone who says a bad word about him. He is exactly as Scott described him. His reputation is - I think he's got an advantage and a disadvantage that are all the same which is he did work with the current treasury secretary on this rescue package. Now, that maybe a disadvantage as problems with that package emerge. But to the extent of this needs to be reworked and perhaps we need to act between now and inauguration day. Geithner may be the guy who could get it done. He desperately needed a treasury secretary quickly as this economy sank further.

SIEGEL: As our Mara Liasson reported here this week, the Obama team is hearing, getting a lot of advice from outside, from people like the journalist and author Jonathan Alter calling for a new New Deal and people like the ex-Clinton aid Elaine Kamarck saying that Obama should first rebuild trust in government before he moves on to big systemic changes, and say health care and energy. I'd like to hear with the two of you. First, we'll start with David. Where do you fall out on the questions of how much change and how fast?

Mr. BROOKS: I'm on the Kamarck side. I think the point that Elaine makes and Bill Galston has made is that LBJ and FDR could count on a certain trust in government. A trust though that doesn't exist and you have to rebuild it. And among people in the Obama camp that I have spoken to, the go-slow approach would be a two-stage approach. You get in, you do a stimulus package, you do an energy package and then later, you do the health care. I just think, to do health care which is so phenomenally difficult, and energy and taxes all at once, there are only 24 hours in a day. I just think it is physically impossible to do all that within a brief period of a few months.


Mr. DIONNE: Your people are saying, yes, it is 32, no, it isn't 32. And I was saying well, let's compromise at 1944 or something. I think that there is an urgent need to do a number of things quickly. But if we forget that FDR did not get everything done himself in the first 100 days. In fact, there was later a second 100 days. And so, I think he does have to be bold. In that sense, I'm on the 1932 side. But there is a paradox about government. People want government to be more active, but they are also - don't fully trust it yet. Maybe it's not a paradox, maybe it's a riddle and that is the riddle he's got to solve.

SIEGEL: This is what I was going to ask David. Wouldn't trust in government arise from the government actually doing things that show that life is better as a result of government doing something?

Mr. BROOKS: I think that's the Kamarck-Galston case, that if you do a stimulus package, and it seems to have an effect, unlike the current stimulus packages - then that's the risk with stimulus packages. That would make people a little more welcome. And other argument, I would think, and I say this with some regret, is that I don't think the Republican Party is coming back anytime soon. So, I do think you have a case and the more important thing is to do it right. Health care - phenomenally complicated. We haven't had an energy package in 30 years, a really effective one for a good reason - phenomenally complicated. Take the time and do it right.

Mr. DIONNE: I think the problem with this argument is that, there is - bold is different from reckless. You don't want the president to be reckless but I think he can and has to be bold both given the problems he has and the opportunity he's been presented. Obama did not run on nothing, he actually ran on a rather specific set of promises. They are bold but I think they are popular. And so I think he does have to use not just the first 100 days, but the first year.

SIEGEL: EJ, I want to hear you on what David just said. The Republicans you think aren't coming back anytime soon. Two years ago, they lose seats in the Congress, this year they lose seats in the Congress and the White House. Do you think that they hit the canvass? They're counted out, and now they're tossed out of the ring two years from now or isn't there some natural comeback for the Republican Party?

Mr. DIONNE: Well, there's a natural comeback, the question is whether it's in two or four years or 10 or 15 years. And I think the first answer to that is how well does Obama do? I mean, if we are in deep trouble four years from now, the Republicans, even if they don't do anything smart will have a chance for a comeback. But, I think, unless they fundamentally rethink conservatism and present themselves as a more moderately conservative party, and accept the fact that they're going to run a big government whether they like it or not, they are going to be in the wilderness for a much longer time.

SIEGEL: That's your kind of party, a big government conservative party.

Mr. BROOKS: Well, don't insult me here, Robert.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BROOKS: I'd like to think a Hamiltonian limited but energetic government. Look, the basic fact is.

Mr. DIONNE: Thin veneer.

Mr. BROOKS: 25 percent - the Democrats have an advantage on issue after issue by 25 percentage points. Republicans got to turn that around.

SIEGEL: David Brooks of The New York Times. EJ Dionne of The Washington Post. Thanks to both of you.

Mr. DIONNE: Thank you.

Mr. BROOKS: Thank you.

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