During his presidential campaign, then-Sen. Barack Obama often referred to the great political history about Abraham Lincoln and his Cabinet by Doris Kearns Goodwin, “Team of Rivals,” published in 2005, indicating at various times that he would like to have a similar approach to Lincoln if he won and were assembling a Cabinet.
As we have learned already about the president-elect, he meant what he said in the campaign and is now doing what he said he would do. In her book, Ms. Kearns Goodwin explained the essence of Lincoln’s approach:
“That Lincoln, after winning the presidency, made the unprecedented decision to incorporate his eminent rivals into his political family, the cabinet, was evidence of a profound self-confidence and a first indication of what would prove to others a most unexpected greatness … It soon became clear … that Abraham Lincoln would emerge the undisputed captain of this most unusual cabinet, truly a team of rivals. The powerful competitors who had originally disdained Lincoln became colleagues who helped him steer the country through its darkest days.”
By “rivals,” Ms. Kearns Goodwin meant not only the Republicans who contested Lincoln for the 1860 Republican presidential nomination, but also several pro-Union Democrats who supported his opponent in the 1860 general election.
Mr. Obama so far has shown the same laudable self-confidence and humility of Lincoln in being willing to invite such Democratic rivals for the party’s presidential nomination into his Cabinet. It is widely considered likely that he has some Republicans in mind for Cabinet posts as well.
In his apparent selection of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton for secretary of state and New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson for secretary of commerce, the president-elect has also shown the wisdom to select two people who have substantial experience and expertise in both foreign policy as well as economic issues. This wisely reflects today’s reality that the economic crisis faced by the U.S. is part of a global crisis, and thus, directly affects America’s relations with the world.
Mrs. Clinton’s service on the front lines of key foreign, economic and trade policy issues as a key policy adviser to her husband during his two terms as president, as well as her experience on these issues as a two-term senator from New York, certainly position her to be one of the great secretaries of state in this country’s history.
Mr. Richardson will bring to the Commerce Department a similar unique combination of economic, trade, and foreign policy expertise. He served in two Cabinet positions under President Clinton, one requiring foreign policy expertise, as U.N. ambassador, and the other, as energy secretary, where trade and economic issues intersected with one of the great issues of our time, energy.
An extraordinary part of Mr. Richardson’s record as a member of the U.S. House for 14 years are the U.S. lives he saved through his negotiating skills: such as negotiating the release of American servicemen and contractors from North Korea, Sudanese rebels, Cuba, and even in direct negotiations with Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.
For both Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Richardson, international trade will undoubtedly be one of the most important connecting tissues to improve relations among nations, friend and foe alike.
China, for example, holds considerable U.S. dollars and debt and is suffering from the aftershocks of the credit crunch and collapsing stock markets in the U.S. It has important interests in increasing trade with the U.S. It could and should be encouraged to invest some of its huge trove of U.S. dollars in job-creating cash-starved U.S. industries, such as clean energy technologies and businesses that don’t involve national security concerns. This will be an important area of intersection between the State and Commerce departments in the years to come.
Russia, as well, a source of huge energy reserves and other vital trade opportunities for the U.S., could become a more important trading partner of the U.S. in coming years. Such increased trade could, in turn, allow for better dialogue on matters now causing increased tensions (such as NATO expansion, anti-missile defense, and the controversy over Georgia).
Together, a Secretary of State Clinton and a Secretary of Commerce Richardson will undoubtedly become important collaborators in improved relations and trade with China, Russia and other important trading partners in the world. They are surely well-positioned to implement Mr. Obama’s policies of fundamental change in dealing with foreign nations, friend and foe alike - to engage in true dialogue, not to dictate policies or to act unilaterally, which too often seemed to be the case in the last eight years.
As successful U.S. politicians and gifted public servants, they both have developed the interpersonal skills that was written about Atticus Finch, the noteworthy and beloved lawyer in the famous novel “To Kill A Mockingbird:” to walk in other people’s shoes and see the world through their eyes.