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Column: Obama's Appointments Give Depth To Hope

This story was written by Carolyn Witte, Cornell Daily Sun


Barack Obamas official announcement of his National Security team on Monday provides much needed depth to the hope and change that he has promised the American people. For many Americans, Obamas grassroots campaign, inspirational speeches, and personable character were enough to seal the deal on Nov. 4. But, for the 47 percent of Americans who did not to buy into the Obamania, I suggest you take another look at our President-elect.

Wide-eyed visionaries are in abundance; pragmatists, not uncommon, but an amalgam of the two is a true rarity. The massive strides Obama has made since election day suggest that he is this rare breed. In anticipation of the unprecedented challenges he will face post inauguration, Obama has not wasted anytime transforming his arguably hollow, idealistic rhetoric into matter-of-fact plans of action that even the most stringent Republicans can grasp onto. His profound words are no longer just ideas, but tangible facilitators of change.

Throughout his campaign, Obama has sought to follow Abraham Lincolns footsteps, admiring his ability to balance audacity and practicality. He refers to Doris Kearns Goodwins biography of Lincoln entitled, Team of Rivals, as a guide to his own cabinet appointments. Despite varied perspectives and brutal animosities towards the Republicans who had run against him, Lincoln appointed many of them to his war Cabinet because they were the best for the job, and thus, best for the country at that time. In a recent interview with Time magazine, Obama reflects on Lincolns pragmatic move: The lesson is to not let your ego or grudges get in the way of hiring absolutely the best people... I dont want to have people who just agree with me, I want people who are continually pushing me out of my comfort zone.

And so just like his role model Abe Lincoln, Obama abides by the philosophy keep your friends close and enemies closer. He has crossed party lines and put aside personal rivalries and heartaches in order to create the best National Security team possible for our country in its critical state. Most significantly, his appointment of Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State exemplifies Obamas poise and self-assurance, two qualities that are essential for our incoming President.

At the Cornell International Affairs Review gala dinner last month, Prof. Peter Katzenstein, government, spoke about the need for Obama to be bold, take risks, and act in unprecedented ways, just as FDR did to combat the Great Depression. Yet, in order to be daring, one must possess extreme confidence and poise. In surrounding himself with his opposition, Obama embodies these essential attributes.

At the same event, fellow government Prof. Isaac Kramnick, government, linked Obama with the philosophical school of pragmatism. He called for an end to wishful ideological thinking and the dismissal of scientific evidence associated with the Bush administration. He expressed hope that Obamas presidency would signify a reemphasis on hard facts above all else.

Obamas decision to keep Robert Gates on board as Secretary of Defense suggests that he is headed in this direction. This move runs far deeper than bipartisanship. Instead of ignorantly linking Gates with the Bush administrations neoconservatism, Obama has distinguished facts from party-lines and ideological principles. He recognizes the vast changes and improvements Gates has made in our foreign policy since taking office proceeding his notorious predecessor, Donald Rumsfeld.

Thus, Obamas appointment of a team of rivals marks a departure from hard-lined ideological thinking. Fundamentally though, Obama strives to create constructive conflict in his administration. Confident in his ability to lead, he seeks to avoid the unanimous groupthink which sabotaged the Bush adinistration. In uniting his opposition, Obama debilitates the polarization which plagues our world, our country, and our political parties. If Obama can successfully apply these same principles of collaborative thinking and befriending the enemy to our nations foreign policy, Americas role as a world leader may in fact be revived. For those who feel that Obama is too far to the left, a gung-ho liberal who is nothing more than a manifestation of false hope, try and give him a chance, at least until he gets into the White House anyway. Because just maybe, Obama will turn out to be more than a starry-eyed idealist with rock-star stage presence. After all, in todays world, anythings possible.

Carolyn Witte is a contributing columnist at The Sun. Contact her at cwitte@cornellsun.com.

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