One need look no further than President-elect Barack Obama’s transition website—aptly located at www.change.gov—to remember his promise of a new and improved Presidency. Yet, as Obama begins the vetting process for cabinet-level and advisory posts, many Americans have decried his focus on Washington insiders. Such critics claim that, by hearkening back to people who held positions in the Bush and Clinton administrations, Obama is abandoning his entire platform of change. What this argument fails to address, however, is that even those experienced politicians whose names may be familiar can still produce profound change—whether it be through the generation of new ideas, or merely that existing ideas are received by fresh ears.
We strongly believe that one of Obama’s strengths is that he surrounds himself with an intelligent, experienced, and diverse set of advisers. For example, Obama’s selection of Senator Joe Biden as a running mate was not only a harbinger of his continued efforts to make sure his advisers are the most qualified, but also marked a sharp contrast to his GOP opponent. Moreover, Obama’s willingness to engage with intellectuals of all political stripes is a welcome change from the previous administration, which often prioritized political affiliation over competency: President Bush’s attempted appointment of Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court is a salient example of his utter disregard for experience and competency in exchange for political maneuvering. As Obama shifts the focus back to ability, he will have no choice but to turn to those who are familiar with Washington politics; this inevitability is no cause for harsh criticism.
Just as Obama will not appoint incompetent or unknown people to his team, he also will not appoint insiders solely due to their status or popularity. Analogous to the thoroughness of his campaign, the vetting process to join Obama’s team is meticulous. Top candidates—including potential Secretary of State and current Senator Hillary Clinton—are required to fill out a 63-item questionnaire. The expansive scope and depth of questions, which cover everything from a candidate’s involvement in controversial matters to his or her public speeches, indicate that every application will be scrupulously and fairly examined.
Yet another change from previous administrations is the transparency of Obama’s transition process. His public Web site contains range of useful tools and information, including an agenda, an application to join Obama’s administration, and even a blog. Moreover, the Web site goes beyond mere distribution of information and actively solicits feedback from constituents: Recently, those subscribed to the Obama e-mail list received a survey asking for opinions about “where to go next.” During his campaign, Obama emphasized grass-roots support and public opinion; we are pleased that this trend promises to continue into his presidency.
In these few months before inauguration, Obama will set the stage for the next four, if not eight, years. His choice to make appointments based on skill rather than mere political affiliation is certainly a refreshing and encouraging transformation. Even if some of Obama’s selections come from previous administrations, their ideas still possess the potential to bring about change. After all, the most important change is not a new roster of names but rather the action Obama takes based on the advice he is given.