December 26, 2008
The Economist Reacts to Obama's Cabinet Picks
The Economist's reaction was that Obama has chosen an all-star team of heavy weights. Beyond Hillary Clinton at State,
... [Bill Richardson] surprised many by quitting as governor of New Mexico to become secretary of commerce. He had previously served as ambassador to the United Nations and secretary of energy under Bill Clinton. Such is his eagerness to serve that he has taken a low-profile job often given to unremarkable cronies of the president.
Next in the presidential-contender list was Tom Vilsack. The former governor of Iowa was well-enough regarded (for competence if not charisma) that he briefly ran for president himself, before finding fundraising tricky. He will become secretary of agriculture. His roots in a corn-growing state have dismayed opponents of America’s corn-based ethanol subsidies. But bravely, he has proposed lowering the tariff on greener, more efficient Brazilian sugar-based ethanol. His reckons that more ethanol in the energy mix will encourage the development of a delivery infrastructure. This will boost future investment into promising forms of non-corn ethanol, such as production from cellulose.
Behind the presidential contenders come other surprisingly weighty candidates for medium-sized cabinet posts. Ken Salazar, a senator from Colorado, has been tapped for the interior department. Mr Salazar, a moderate from a state that usually swings behind the Republicans, was valuable to Senate Democrats and was thought of as an up and coming. Mr Obama’s nominee for secretary of energy is Steve Chu, a Nobel-prize-winning physicist and head of the Lawrence Berkeley national laboratory, an important research centre.
Two appointments might seem like partisan payback. Tom Daschle was the head of the Senate Democrats until his South Dakota seat was taken by gleeful Republicans in 2004. The well-connected Mr Daschle will spearhead reform as head of the Department of Health and Human Services. Eric Shinseki was pushed into early retirement as army chief of staff, after predicting the Iraq war would take hundreds of thousands of troops to win. Mr Obama has nominated him to be Secretary of Veterans’ Affairs. Yet even these two appointments have drawn surprisingly little Republican criticism.
Mr Obama’s picks may be one reason why the approval rating of his transition is high, according to polls, and well above that of George Bush or Bill Clinton at similar points. Including the appointment of Hilda Solis as Labour Secretary he has even managed to pick two blacks, three Hispanics and two Asian-Americans—and five of his cabinet are women—without any accusations of tokenism. The biggest point for criticism might be his choice of Eric Holder for attorney-general. Mr Holder is a well-respected lawyer. But he is tangentially implicated in some of the grubbier episodes of the Bill Clinton era, including Mr Clinton’s pardon of Marc Rich, a fugitive financier. Mr Holder may provide the only piece of controversy in cabinet confirmation hearings....
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