Monday, December 1, 2008

Bipartisanship, sort of

No surprises in the Cabinet appointments that were announced this morning.

President-elect Obama has selected Hillary Clinton to be secretary of state, Eric Holder for attorney general, and Janet Napolitano as secretary of homeland security. Also, he has decided to retain Robert Gates in his current job of secretary of defense.

If the Gates appointment is the extent of bipartisanship in Obama's major appointments, the president-elect's commitment to that concept has not lived up to its advance billing. And Gates is expected to be held over for a transitional period of no more than a year or so, although, as far as I know, Obama has not publicly said so.

I'm criticizing the overblown rhetoric, not the substance of the thing. In my opinion, when the electorate has clearly designated one party to govern, as they currently have with the Democratic Party, then that party should do so, subject to the voters' performance review at the next election. But that's not to say that I want to get rid of safeguards against tyranny of the majority, such as Senate filibusters.

My guess is that politicians in countries with parliamentary systems might be baffled by American presidents' tendency to appoint at least a token member of the opposition party to their Cabinet, as a goodwill gesture. In those countries, members of other parties are included only to the degree necessary to forge a governing coalition. Allocation of Cabinet positions to parties that are coalition partners is the result of painstaking negotiations, sometimes extending over several weeks. And those negotiations tend to be based on pure power considerations.

However, the British, at least, probably understood what Franklin Roosevelt did when, as I described here, that Democratic president appointed Republicans to top national security positions in his Cabinet during World War II. That was similar to the all-party coalition governments that the British created during World Wars One and Two.

I suppose one could argue that we're currently in similar circumstances, with our ongoing military involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan. To some extent. But, while Roosevelt was trying to rally America for war, Obama will try to extricate us from two wars that began during his predecessor's administration.

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