Accessibility links

Obama Assembling Centrist Team


President-elect Barack Obama was elected last month largely on the promise of bringing change after eight years of the Bush administration. But, some of Mr. Obama's liberal supporters are disappointed that his emerging cabinet has a decidedly centrist outlook.

In the afterglow of his election victory on November 4, President-elect Obama promised that a new era of change had begun.

"Because of what we did on this day, in this election, at this defining moment, change has come to America," he said.

Mr. Obama's early opposition to the war in Iraq was a major selling point with liberal Democrats as he sought the party's presidential nomination this year.

So it was a surprise to some of them when Mr. Obama chose to retain President Bush's Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates.

Also surprising to some of his supporters was his choice of rival Hillary Clinton to be secretary of state. Clinton had criticized several of Mr. Obama's proposals on foreign policy during the campaign, especially his pledge to talk to U.S. adversaries.

Mr. Obama says he is putting together the incoming administration by choosing people who are competent and efficient, regardless of party affiliation or ideology.

"Wisdom is not the monopoly of any one party," he said. "In order for us to be effective, given the scope and the scale of the challenges that we face, Republicans and Democrats are going to have to work together. And I think what the American people want more than anything is just common sense, smart government. They don't want ideology, they don't want bickering, they don't want sniping. They want action and effectiveness."

Mr. Obama may be disappointing some liberal activists who were expecting a major focus on change, but he is getting kudos from political analysts.

"He wants to be a successful president, and in order to do that, you have to be realistic about what you can accomplish given the conditions that prevail at the moment," said Larry Sabato, who directs the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia. "I think Obama has been very realistic in his choice of cabinet officers. They will be responsive to his agenda. He is not signing on to their agenda. They are signing on to his agenda."

Mr. Obama will take office on January 20 with an expanded Democratic majority in Congress. But many of the new Democrats in Congress come from congressional districts that previously supported President Bush, a fact that could make a difference in their outlook.

"The challenge may be that the Democrats in the House of Representatives particularly are a broad range, from very liberal to quite moderate," said James Pfiffner, a professor of public policy at George Mason University in Virginia. "The moderate Republicans, some of them were defeated in the last election. And the people who bumped them off were moderate Democrats, so it is going to be hard for the leadership to bring that broad coalition together."

During the presidential campaign, Republican John McCain criticized Mr. Obama as one of the most liberal members of the Senate. But exit polls on Election Day showed that Mr. Obama won in part because he did better with independent and moderate voters than Senator McCain.

Experts believe that support from the middle of the political spectrum will act as a check on Mr. Obama if he tries to pursue policies that are viewed as too liberal by centrist voters.

At the same time, Mr. Obama faces the challenge of dealing with disappointed liberal supporters who expect a major shift in policy both at home and abroad.

"They are disappointed. But on the other hand, they have their champion in office and their opportunity to shape the debate within the administration," said Bruce Buchanan, a presidential scholar at the University of Texas. "It is not a fabrication to say that any large coalition like a political party has to be a big tent. There is no question about it. So I think it will work and that Obama is well positioned to assuage those concerns, but assuage them he will have to do."

For the moment, most Americans seem to approve of the way the president-elect is putting together his incoming administration.

A recent USA Today-Gallup Poll found that 78 percent of those surveyed approve of Mr. Obama's transition. That compares with 65 percent who approved of President-elect Bush's transition in 2000 and 67 percent who favored President-elect Clinton's transition in 1992.

XS
SM
MD
LG