Tuesday, December 02, 2008
Obama's cabinet in mind so called experts wonder if a team of Rivals will work? Take it from Abe Lincoln it will! What Obama's team must do!
From NBC’s Domenico Montanaro
"Team of Rivals" has become an overused cliché to describe President-elect Obama’s cabinet picks, particularly that of Hillary Clinton. The conventional wisdom that seems to have settled in among the punditocracy is, "Well, if it worked for Lincoln…." But little understood, and certainly little mentioned in on-air vamping, is that Lincoln's Team of Rivals -- which takes its name from the hailed Doris Kearns Goodwin book -- wasn’t exactly harmonious. Lincoln had to use his tremendous interpersonal skills to manage a host of egos that hampered governance, particularly with regard to his ability to manage the Civil War.
It wasn’t exactly “No Drama” -- the slogan Team Obama has avowed for almost two years. “Tried by War” by Princeton historian James McPherson looks at Lincoln’s time as Commander-in-Chief. Notably, Lincoln was the only president dealing with war (including planning for one) from the time he took office to the time he left / was assassinated. Largely overlooked by history is Lincoln in this role, McPherson notes. Though he had little military experience, Lincoln was a student of military strategy and largely was a very effective Commander-in-Chief. He wrote (not re-wrote) the president's war powers, a term that didn't even exist before Lincoln. But Lincoln's time as Commander-in-Chief was not without its bumps in the road, largely because of borderline insubordination from this "Team of Rivals." As Matthew Pinsker wrote in the Los Angeles Times Nov. 18th and written about Nov. 21 in the Boston Globe, only one of these rivals for the Republican nomination -- Secretary of State William Seward -- survived Lincoln’s first term. Treasury Secretary Salmon Chase, Secretary of War Simon Cameron and Attorney General Edward Bates all left early.
That Lincoln had to manage not only his rivals for the nomination, but also others who were certainly no loyalists, show the Team of Rivals strategy was a mixed bag. It did show, at least in one example, however, that if you pick the right person -- qualified and brutally honest -- it can work out. But it’s far from a certainty. The ineffectual Gen. George McClellan -- a West Point phenom, who at just age 34 commanded the Army of the Potomac -- went behind Lincoln's back, and, in letters to his wife, called the president things like a "baboon" and a "gorilla" while keeping secret his war plans. At one point, he whispered that he didn't want to say his plans aloud for fear Lincoln would leak them. The next day, McClellan himself laid out his plan in detail in the New York Herald.
Lincoln wound up replacing Cameron not long into his presidency -- in the early stages of Civil War. He had appointed Cameron -- fulfilling a campaign promise to do so -- apparently for political reasons. Lincoln had been "reluctant" to appoint him, particularly because of allegations of cronyism, favoritism and corruption that were attached to him. But Cameron delivered key Pennsylvania delegates on second ballot at the 1860 convention, helping Lincoln win the Republican presidential nomination. Cameron proved not to be up to the task, was a poor administrator and handed over contracts without competitive bidding. Lincoln complained Cameron was "utterly ignorant," "selfish," "openly discourteous to the president" and "obnoxious to the country."
Now, interestingly, where the "Team of Rivals" strategy seemed to work was with regard to Lincoln's choice to replace Cameron -- Edwin M. Stanton. The capable leader was a Democrat, a confidante of McClellan's and one who openly expressed disdain for the administration in 1861. The description of Lincoln as the "original gorilla" came from Stanton and was picked up by McClellan. Lincoln, though, thought he was qualified and overlooked the past insults in order to clean up the Department of War. Lincoln was able to channel Stanton's brusque nature. The 16th president, measured and standoffish by nature, played a kind of "Good Cop-Bad Cop" routine with those seeking favors at the White House, McPherson writes. Those favor-seekers were many in Lincoln’s first two years. The president described the White House, in fact, as being overrun by them. Lincoln would often dispatch Stanton to turn them away, and they would often leave blaming Stanton, thereby preserving Lincoln's reputation.
Additionally, Stanton’s soured on McClellan after growing frustrated, as did Lincoln, with McClellan’s cautiousness in commanding the Army of the Potomac. McClellan, by the way, had his own ambitions and ran as a Democrat against Lincoln in 1864. McClellan got swamped, however, losing (55%-45%, or 212 electoral votes to 21), winning just three states, Kentucky, Delaware and New Jersey. So, in the case of Stanton, the strategy appeared to work, but "Team of Rivals" can be a tenuous, difficult maneuver to pull off. It can be argued, in fact, that while it all worked out in the end, so to speak, Lincoln's "Team of Rivals did little to help! will a team of rivals work?
From the Book the Political genius of Abraham Lincoln:
Senior-level executives can learn a number of important lessons in leadership by reading this book. They include:
1. Surround yourself with whatever talent the given enterprise requires.
2. Welcome, indeed strongly encourage principled dissent.
3. Timing is not everything but often the difference between success and failure.
4. Exercise selective hearing during a contentious group discussion.
5. Unless absolutely certain, be willing to grant benefit of the doubt.
6. Exhaust opponents by listening to them.
7. Appreciate effort but only reward performance.
8. Serve “with malice toward none, with charity for all”
9. And lead “with firmness in the right.”
10. When dealing with forceful personalities, focus on common interests. The Book at Amazon
With that in mind and the fact that Bush picked those that would bend to him "Ninety-five percent of American foreign and security policy is bipartisan. That's why Congress argues so hard about the last 5 percent. We have to persuade voters they're getting value for their votes." That characteristically dry observation came from the late Les Aspin, who was, for 20 years, one of the brightest defense brains on Capitol Hill. President-elect Barack Obama's picks for his top defense and foreign-policy jobs, announced Monday morning, suggest he shares Aspin's view. Critics of Obama's choices misunderstand them. They don't spell "continuity." Quite the contrary: they signal a shift away from the going-in approach of the Bush administration—a core belief in the unilateral power of America to shape events—back to the traditional post-World War II center in U.S. foreign policy. Back, in other words, to Aspin's "95 percent."
Obama's choices—well, two out of three—signal something else, too: brains are not enough. Washington's vast foreign and defense bureaucracies have to be managed. That was Aspin's failure. Aspin was brilliant but notorious for his inability to manage even his own schedule. Installed as the first defense secretary of the last Democratic president, Aspin was swamped by the Pentagon. The "Black Hawk Down" debacle in Mogadishu was hardly Aspin's fault alone, but it gave Clinton the excuse to fire him after just a year in the job. With Obama's decision to ask Robert Gates to stay on at Defense, and his choice of Gen. James Jones as national-security adviser, the president-elect has eschewed ideology. Instead, he has opted for brains, centrist instincts and management skills—all born of long apprenticeships in the politics of Washington. the real challenge
* I have to tell you I love Abraham Lincoln's concept of picking the best and the brightest and not necessarily those that agreed with each other or him because he was a leader and was smart enough to figure out which idea was the best exactly as Obama is. I do fear what I have feared from the beginning! When Obama was first compared to JFK and Teddy and Caroline endorsed him as being a unifier along the lines of JFK I feared his assassination! With MLK, JFK, and RFK, in mind I feared this unifier too would be assassinated. Now he is being compared to Abe Lincoln who was also assassinated my fear still alive has been rekindled! We must keep hope alive *Obama) and he will make the right decisions based on advice from the best of all views but he must have his chance. We need him to have his chance!