Obama Visits Presidential Rivals Before Picking Cabinet

November 17, 2008

obama-richardson-clinton.jpgPresident-elect Barack Obama has often praised Abraham Lincoln for his
“team of rivals” approach to governing, and there are signs the
Democrat may seek to emulate that tactic.

Obama meets today with vanquished Republican
opponent John McCain. On Sunday, Obama also confirmed he has spoken
with former Democratic primary rival, Hillary Rodham Clinton. The New
York senator has received bipartisan support for the job of secretary
of State, but Obama refused to tip his hand.

“She is somebody who I needed advice and counsel from,” Obama said on CBS’ 60 Minutes, calling the former first lady “one of the most thoughtful public officials that we have.”

“Beyond that,” Obama added, “you’re not getting anything out of me.”

Clinton and New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson,
another Obama rival for the Democratic presidential nomination, are
under consideration for the State Department post, according to unnamed
Democratic officials quoted by the Associated Press. The wire service
said the officials sought anonymity because the discussions between
Obama and his former rivals were private.

Rep. Charles Rangel, D-N.Y., all but endorsed
his New York colleague for the diplomatic post. “I cannot think of a
better choice,” he said on CNN’s Late Edition. Henry Kissinger,
who was secretary of State for Republicans Richard Nixon and Gerald
Ford, said at an economic forum in India that Clinton “would be an
outstanding appointment.”

Sen. Joe Biden of Delaware, another Obama primary rival, is already in the administration as vice president-elect.

In the CBS interview, Obama said he has been
reading about Lincoln and the “wisdom” in his “approach to government,
even before he was president.” Obama has cited the book Team of Rivals,in which historian Doris Kearns Goodwin describes how the 16th president stocked his Cabinet with political critics.

William Seward, whom Lincoln defeated for the
1860 GOP nomination, became secretary of State. Other Lincoln rivals in
the Cabinet included Edward Bates as attorney general and Salmon Chase
as Treasury secretary.

Early in his tenure, after the outbreak of the
Civil War, Lincoln met with one of the men he defeated in the 1860
general election, Stephen Douglas.

McCain and Obama are scheduled to meet in
Chicago. Obama transition spokeswoman Stephanie Cutter said both men
believe “Americans want and deserve a more effective and efficient
government,” and will “discuss ways to work together to make that a

The former antagonists will have close
associates with them: Rahm Emanuel, Obama’s pick for White House chief
of staff, and McCain’s friend, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C.

Graham said that in some ways, the meeting is a follow-up to the rivals’ separate remarks on Nov. 4.

Obama had praised McCain, a former Vietnam
prisoner of war, as a “brave and selfless leader,” and said he looked
forward to working with him “to renew this nation’s promise.” In his
concession speech, McCain pledged “to do all in my power to help him
lead us through the many challenges we face.”

There is no agenda for the meeting, Graham said.
McCain wants to learn how Obama plans to proceed and “where we can fit
in,” Graham said, citing work on climate change as a potential area of
common ground.

Presidential historian Robert Dallek said the
Obama-Lincoln comparisons are “inevitable,” in part because next year
is the 200th anniversary of Lincoln’s birth. Also, Obama will become
the nation’s first African-American president, nearly 150 years after
Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation.

The team-of-rivals approach has been used by
others. Dallek pointed out that, as the storm clouds of World War II
gathered, Democrat Franklin Roosevelt put two Republicans in his
Cabinet: Henry Stimson as secretary of War and Frank Knox as secretary
of the Navy.

“At a time of uncertainty and crisis, it’s good to have a government of national unity,” he said.

Source: USA Today

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