“While Mr. Obama has yet to name any of his cabinet secretaries,” The New York Times reports today, “his early choices for White House staff positions and the names currently at the top of the list for staff and cabinet jobs suggest that his administration could be heavily stocked with Democrats who served under Mr. Clinton.”
This neatly sums up the narrative of the moment: Obama’s presidency will in fact be Clinton’s third term, since most of his staff, save for a couple of token Republicans, will have served under Bill. In terms of numbers, this will probably turn out true. I, too, have my qualms about Obama’s stocking up on former Clinton officials, particularly if it portends dithering in foreign policy. But here’s the thing: where else would Obama find qualified people? If you were a Democrat in Washington in the 90s, you probably either worked for Clinton or with him, and if you didn’t, well, where the hell were you? On the other hand, if you came of age politically after Clinton, you’re most likely too young for a top post in the inbound administration; if you worked for Carter, you’re too old.
Presidents tend to surround themselves with people who’ve been around. Cheney, Rumsfeld, Powell and Card all had histories with Republican administrations dating back to Nixon. As I recall, this was considered a plus for Bush until things started to go downhill. For all their faults, at least they had impressive résumés — we may not have liked what we saw, but at least we knew who we were dealing with. The same can’t be said of the faceless string-pullers like Addington, Yoo or Haynes, who came out of nowhere and disappeared back into the void after the damage was done. I’m sure none of us want a rerun of that.