Saturday, December 06, 2008


While I've been enjoying R&R here at home, President-elect Obama has been busy getting ready for his tenure in the White House.  He has picked his economic team, then his national security team, and now he's picking them in ones and twos.  Earlier this week, he picked former Governor Bill Richardson to be the Secretary of Commerce.  This evening's news is that he's going to tap retired General Eric Shinseki as head of the VA.  

I gotta say, I have been extremely impressed with both the quality of the people he's been picking, and how he has been presenting them.  The press has been talking a lot about how these are all strong-willed people, not "yes-men", and for once the press is right.  Today's selection of Shinseki shows just how different things will be under Obama than they were under Bush.  Shinseki was the Chief of Staff of the Army in early 2003, during the buildup to the war, and he testified to Congress that several hundred thousand troops would be needed to secure the country.  That was NOT what Bush & Co. wanted to hear, and Shinseki was immediately forced out.  Now Obama is naming him to head the Veteran's Administration.  Not only is he hiring somebody who has followed his conscience and not toed the party line, but he's putting an accomplished veteran (one who was wounded in combat, no less) in charge of the organization that's supposed to take care of our vets.  Bush chose party hacks for most jobs, but Obama is going for proven abilities.  What a difference.

I have a personal stake in Obama's choice for Attorney General.  Eric Holder was the judge who granted my divorce way back when he was a judge in DC.  He struck me as a very sharp guy then, and he still does.

All the rest are equally good.  Robert Gates has been a superb Secretary of Defense.  Hillary Clinton will be an excellent Secretary of State, so long as her husband can keep his mouth shut.  General Jim Jones, the new National Security Advisor, is another outstanding choice.  

What was just as impressive to me, besides the quality of the nominees, was how he presented them: as members of the economics team, or members of the national security team.  This is important.  From the get-go, these strong-willed people are buying in to the concept of working together.  In the Bush administration, everybody pretty much went their own separate ways and didn't play well together ... witness Gen. Colin Powell and Donald Rumsfeld.  And Bush didn't appreciate anything that went counter to his (or Cheney's) preconceived notions.  But Obama has no fear of that.

When it works, it's a wonderful experience.  Years ago, when I was the Executive Officer at NSGA Misawa, we had some very strong-willed department heads and senior enlisted.  Frankly, I enjoyed staff meetings when there was a lot of rather ... ummm ... "animated" discussion about whatever topic was at hand.  Those men and women were not afraid of speaking their minds and were very articulate about what they believed.  I remember one time in particular where something came across my desk that required a decision.  There were good reasons for going any one of several different ways.  I called a staff meeting, described the situation to them, and asked for their thoughts.  It was like throwing a big ol' bone to a pack of very well-reasoned dogs.  Everybody had an opinion, and since their background experiences were all different, their opinions were different.  I had a great time being the moderator of that discussion.  They finally came to a recommendation and the CO and I adopted it.  Obama might get to do that on a daily basis.  

There's also the possibility that it could all spin out of control.  But I draw a comparison to sports teams.  The best ones have a lot of "difficult" members, but the coach gets them to work together, channel their energies, and focus on something that's greater than their own selves.  That's a common thread in almost all championship-winning teams, at any level, and in any sport, from high school football to NASCAR to the New York Yankees.  

And face it: we need a championship-winning administration right about now.


Constance said...

Thanks for the insight an analysis! It does seem like grown ups are in charge :)

Shea said...

I share your sentiment and I am very hopeful that things will get better. I like your analogy to a sports team. Come to think of it, perhaps Obama is like Phil Jackson, especially when he coached the bulls. He might turn out to be one of the all time greats. A great coach is very much like a great leader, with one difference here, this coach gets to pick whoever he wants to be on his team.