Moderate Choices So Far – Save One

Since President-elect Barack Obama has only reached the collective national consciousness over the last few years, it was very possible for people to project on the attractive politician the qualities they would want in a leader. Many believe he will moderate the highly-partisan and far-Left Congressional leaders Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and US Senate Leader Harry Reid. Given Obama’s history in Chicago and his voting record in the Illinois State Senate and US Senate, there was no reason to believe he holds moderate political views. It is not likely that he is a closet moderate. However, it might the case he has few political convictions and simply angles for current political advantage. In any case, Obama appears to making some wise selections and at least one foolish appointment to his cabinet.

At this point, it appears as though Obama will allow Defense Secretary Robert Gates to continue on in the new Administration. Gates is not a highly political person. Since he replaced former Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Gates has managed to turn the Iraq War around while not unnecessarily antagonizing Democrats in Congress.  Iraq is looking more and more like a success. The steady reduction in the number of causalities and turn over of security responsibilities to the Iraqis will diminish Iraq as an issue. The re-appointment of Gates will protect Obama on the political Right and the angry Left will be forced to endure a quiet American success rather than a loud American defeat. Unless Obama terribly misjudges, Iraq will not become a Vietnam.

The appointment of Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State is also an astute choice. Senator Clinton would have been the only other independent power base in the Democratic Party that could challenge Obama. She will now be incorporated in his Administration. Her political fortunes are now linked to his. As Secretary of State, she would be co-oped politically without being so close to the White House as to cause mischief. Although Clinton is not particularly moderate, she projected moderation and maturity in her foreign policy positions when running for president. I suppose to be safe, a President Obama could always arrange for those 3 a.m. phone calls to be re-directed to Clinton who claimed to be ready to receive to them.

The real disappointment thus far is the apparent selection of Eric Holder for Attorney General. Successful Attorney Generals have been both competent and apolitical. Holder is too much of a partisan to be an effective AG. Ironically, he got his start when appointed as a judge of the Superior Court of the Districit of Columbia by Ronald Reagan. Yet he has not showed the moral stature to stand up to power at personal cost in the name of justice. During the last moments of the Clinton Administration, Holder ushered through a large number of controversial pardons, including the corrupt pardon of Marc Rich, that by-passed the traditional Justice Department process. It was certainly within the authority of the President to issue pardons, but that does not obligate the Justice Department to bless them. Holder has his moment to demonstrate a profile in courage and he failed. Even the Liberal editorial board of the LA Times opined, “…the wisest course for Barack Obama would be to choose an eminent lawyer who shares the administration’s legal philosophy but can’t be caricatured as a presidential insider. For all of his impressive qualities, former Deputy Attorney. General Eric H. Holder Jr. doesn’t fit that description.”

In 1999,  Hillary Clinton was seeking the New York Senate seat being vacated by Daniel Patrick Moynihan. According the National Review, “over the objections of the FBI, the Bureau of Prisons, and prosecuting attorneys, Holder supported Clinton’s commutation of the sentences of 16 FALN conspirators.” The pardon were so unwarranted and so conspicuously political that in a bi-partisan fashion the Senate condemned the action 95-2 followed by the House 311-41. Holder demonstrated far more partisanship than the Senate and the House could muster, a high bar to overcome.

Even on the merits of the law, Holder has found himself conspicuously out of the mainstream. The US Supreme Court recently ruled in the District of Columbia v. Heller that the Second Amendment right to keep an bear arms is an “individual” rather than collective right. Even Obama himself conceded as much. However, Holder voluntarily joined in an amicus curiae brief arguing the exact opposite. If he had been AG when the Heller case came up, he probably would not have pursued it to the Supreme Court and the Second Amendment would be at greater risk.

Obama will make more decisions in the days to come, and perhaps some of the people who are now whispered choices will be disappointed.  With each choice Obama will define his presidency and so far the choices have been, with the exception of Holder, moderate and largely conventional.

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