When Barack Obama was choosing his cabinet, some pundits referenced Lincoln’s “team of rivals” in commenting his choice of Hillary Clinton as secretary of state and his decision to keep Defense Secretary Bob Gates, a Republican. When he selected Tim Geithner, Steven Chu and Eric Holder, others said that, just like JFK, Obama was selecting the “best and the brightest.” After close to six months in office, it is more accurate to say that Obama carefully chose the consummate team players. By this, I am referring to Hillary Clinton and Vice-President Joe Biden. Together, they make Obama look stronger.
Outside of Obama, Hillary Clinton has been the star of this administration. And it is not because she is dominating the news cycle—she has, in fact, been low key. Rather, it is because she has been focused, determined and effective. She also seems to be enjoying her new role and that only reinforces the notion of the team player. After years of being the team player in husband Bill Clinton’s political career, she is now performing a similar service for Barack Obama.
Her campaign for the presidency was admittedly disappointing. She had the name, the money, and the experience to be the next Democratic Party nominee. We can say her campaign was poorly managed, but this was the year of the transformational candidate, not the transactional candidate. However, as Obama defended the makeup of his essentially transactional-type cabinet by affirming that the real change would come from the Oval Office, it became important that he be surrounded by smart, efficient and experienced realists like Hillary. He chose well and she has not disappointed. And as she faces her first real diplomatic crisis in North Korea, not many doubt that the U.S. has the best person for the task.
When Joe Biden was chosen as the Vice President nominee, this blog characterized his contribution to the ticket as an addition of “gravitas.” The relatively inexperienced nominee for president was reaching out to a man of experience and talent. He had the deserved reputation as a bit of a loose cannon, but he also had a knack for building relationships, making friends, and exercising sound judgment. It was Biden who pushed for Hillary and it is Biden who is usually the last person to leave the room when a major decision has to be made. (It will be worthwhile to watch Biden on Meet The Press this coming Sunday.)
Clinton and Biden have therefore contributed greatly to the promising start of the new administration. The years ahead will not be easy, as even the rosiest scenarios project a sluggish economy sluggish for the foreseeable future and the world will no doubt remain in perilous place. Of course, a lot of credit should go to Obama for making these selections. But, for now, the secretary of state and the vice-president have helped make Obama a better president than he would have been without them.