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Obama’s bipartisan Cabinet picks could betray campaign promises

How difficult it can be to unmask a politician.

Throughout election season this fall, it was unclear which Barack Obama would succeed President Bush in 2009 – a left-wing populist whose policies were more Hugo Chavez than John Kennedy, or a moderate centrist who tries to please as much of the political spectrum as possible.

It’s not likely the former Obama ever really existed; more likely he was a figment of Sean Hannity’s imagination to dissuade Americans from voting for him. It looks like it is the latter Obama who will seat the Oval Office in January.

Most indicative of this trend are Obama’s Cabinet picks. They have been a series of well-known and moderately-known names, many of them holding a high amount of esteem on either side of the political aisle. One thing they all have in common is their friendliness to elite interests – far from the image Obama was campaigning on.

By now, most people are familiar with the high profile selections: Hillary Clinton as secretary of state, and Robert Gates as a holdover from the Bush White House to head the Department of Defense. How it is “change” or an offering of “hope” to leave Gates – a senior CIA official during the Iran-Contra Affair – in charge of the DOD is unclear.

On the surface, the selection of Clinton to Secretary of State appears to make more sense. The Clintons are generally well-favored around the world, at least among those states which are our allies. Still, Clinton shares an annoying trait with current Secretary of Defense Condoleezza Rice in her refusal to meet with foreign leaders who are deemed hostile.

That Clinton would not choose to meet with, for example, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is hardly a change at all. In fact, so closely does she follow the current norm that her State department may be completely indistinct from the present one, marked by wild accusations and inappropriate threats of force.

Other higher-profile picks include New Mexico Governor and former Presidential candidate, Bill Richardson. Richardson as secretary of commerce is probably the most favorable pick in Obama’s future Cabinet, but he would have been better-suited to secretary of state, certainly better-suited to it than Clinton.

These picks have drawn both considerable praise and considerable ire. Many of those on the left, who labored with great difficulty to aid in Obama’s election, now feel betrayed by his selections. On the other hand, polls reported by CNN last week indicate generally favorable views of Obama’s picks, with much praise for the Cabinet’s diversity, drawing comparisons to Abraham Lincoln.

Under the guise of “uniting the nation,” Obama’s picks seem perfectly reasonable. He is dipping into the pools of moderate-right and moderate-left candidates almost evenly, and there is something admirable and refreshing about this in light of the previous eight (well, really, 30) years of partisan politics.

This only makes real sense to a certain degree, though. Obama has often been regarded as one of the most liberal doves in the Congress. His decision to place two hawks in two of the most important foreign policy-related positions in his White House (Gates and Clinton) is gravely disappointing.

More accurately, Obama’s picks represent what could be a disappointing transition. Rather than bring about meaningful change and take America in a more purposeful direction, it seems as though the Obama administration will function as little more than the least-offensive way possible of maintaining the status quo.

Still, it would be unwise to completely write off the Obama administration as failed promises. More than any candidate in the average college student’s lifetime, Obama seems receptive to public opinion. I still cling, perhaps naively, to the hope that, if the hard work displayed by the activists who got Obama elected continues on into his inauguration, the country can pick itself up and lead the world by example rather than by force.

Hopefully, the next time I write, I’ll be able to admit I was wrong and embrace the Obama administration and have confidence in its ability to lead the way into the future. For now, though, this being my last column of the Bush administration, I will leave it with the cynical words of Pete Townshend: “Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.”

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