Barack Obama, Diversity, Change, and Washington Experience

Clinton's third term? Not unless he's going back to the White House himself.


The Obama pre-presidency is three days and two appointments old. This seems like a pretty good time to start making judgments about it, right? (At least that's what the television bloviators seem to think.)

Can we please retire the following questions until, oh, I don't know, the inauguration? Is this the third Clinton term? Is the administration diverse enough?

These notions derive from the fact that Rahm Emanuel has been named the incoming White House chief of staff (Great choice.) and that Larry Summers is on the short list for Treasury.

One great advantage Barack Obama has that Bill Clinton lacked is a recent, successful Democratic administration from which to draw experience. The last Democrat preceding Clinton was Jimmy Carter, and arguably the last successful Democrat was John F. Kennedy (you can make a case for LBJ, but either way, staffers of that generation were past their prime in 1993).

The commentariat would presumably have Obama automatically disqualify anyone with Washington experience in the name of "change"?

Ask Presidents Clinton and Carter how Washington-inexperienced chiefs and staffs turned out. Clinton put together a young, inexperienced White House staff and it showed. His chief of staff, Mack McLarty, was amiable and hard working but didn't understand Washington. Remember the first two years of the Clinton administration?

You can bloody well bet that Rahm Emanuel does—and that he has a good sense of how to avoid the dumb mistakes that marred the early Clinton years.

This is the bottom line: Barack Obama will set the tone and decide the policy direction of the Obama administration. Rahm Emanuel and any other former Clintonites will be working for Obama, not he for them, and not secretly for Bill Clinton. And to the extent that Obama's policies are like Clinton's (imagine that, Democratic presidents with similar policies!), well, I have rather fond memories of the shape in which Clinton left the country.

Even more preposterous is the question of whether the incipient Obama administration is sufficiently diverse (MSNBC's Andrea Mitchell seems particularly taken with this question).

Seriously? Two appointments in (one of the appointees, by the way, being Jewish), people are questioning whether the first black president's administration is going to be sufficiently diverse? The mind reels.

(While we're on the subject, imagine the commentariat's reaction had Obama's initial appointees been all minorities without a whit of Washington experience.)

Take a deep breath, everyone, and wait for the Obama administration to take a bit more shape before dusting off these hoary queries again.

  • Click here to read more by Robert Schlesinger.
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