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Column: Obama's Appointments Give Conservatives Hope

This story was written by Robby Colby, Cavalier Daily


IN THE last few weeks, President-elect Barack Obama has begun to select those officials who will make up his cabinet and serve as his chief advisors. For those of us who awaited with fear in our hearts a radical shift to the left, especially on national security and economic issues, we can begin now to breathe a little more easily. For the most part, in these two most essential fields, Obamas nominations represent choices that the right can live with. They also provide much of the experience that the President-elect lacks and demonstrate a reversal of the questionable associations that plagued Obama through primary and election season.

Who would have thought that a team of advisors initially dubbed Clinton III would ever meet with some tentative approval from those on the right side of the political spectrum? Obamas appointments certainly encompass quite a few former Clinton affiliates, from prospective Attorney General Eric Holder (a high-ranking Justice Department official under the Clinton administration), to Lawrence Summers, Secretary of the Treasury under Bill Clinton, and even including one of the Clintons: Hillary herself.

But the expectations of conservatives, many of whom would have considered Hillary in the White House again a fate worse than death a year ago, have been tempered by a year of regarding and fearing the inexperience and leftist leanings of our President-elect. In light of those concerns, the mere appointment of leading national figures with serious experience in major posts comes as welcome news.

Nowhere is this more significant than in the economic and foreign affairs fields. Obamas economic team demonstrates little of the spread the wealth around views conservatives feared might manifest themselves upon election. Rather, in a time of crisis, Obama has chosen some steady hands to be at the wheel. Timothy Geithner, prospective Secretary of the Treasury, has been for the last five years the head of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. He has been heavily involved in fighting the collapse of the credit industry. He also has a working history with both the Federal Reserve System and the Treasury Department, at a time in which cooperation between the two will come at a premium, having been in the Treasury Department before going to New York.

Additionally, Obama will lean on the advice of Lawrence Summers and Paul Volcker, former Chairman of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, and the man who oversaw the defeat of stagflation in the early 1980s. If nothing else, Obama will have decades of experience to draw upon in formulating his economic policy and in dealing with the crisis. That alone ought to relieve some of the concerns of conservatives, assuming, of course, that Obama listens to his advisors.

The foreign policy assemblage is also reassuring. Most comforting is the decision of Robert Gates to remain in office as Secretary of Defense. Gates has been an excellent member of the Bush cabinet, and provides stability particularly in the handling of the war in Iraq. His decision to remain adds a bipartisan element to the cabinet and will add elements of continuity to the Obama administration, at least in the short term. Hopefully the respect Gates commands will help offset some of the initiatives of a liberal Congress, such as Rep. Barney Franks (D., Mass.) assertion that the defense budget could be cut by one-fourth.

The most controversial of Obamas decisions was that of Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State. Clinton comes with pluses and minuses. For conservatives, her positive aspects hinge on her ability to retain the personality she displayed during the primary season. A few weeks ago, The Weekly Standard ran an article discussing why conservatives had come to appreciate Hillary Clinton, a fact unthinkable a ittle over a year ago. The answer had to do with the toughness and resilience she displayed during the primaries, when she took the side of those blue dog Democrats with whom Republicans ally on issues like national security and some social values. If we could trust that that was the true Hillary Clinton, and not just an adopted skin used for political purposes, her tenacity and toughness would make her a good fit for the negotiating nature of the position of Secretary of State.

Thus far, the choices Barack Obama has made for his cabinet have been far more centrist than conservatives might have dared hope for. He has done well to choose experienced advisors, particularly figures like Geithner and Gates, men who have experience in dealing with the immediate crises his administration must confront. These choices of experienced leaders help offset the inexperience of the President-elect, and ought to help conservatives and the country as a whole sleep a little better at night.

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