December 1st, 2008
09:17 AM ET

Obama's A+ Centrist Cabinet

John P. Avlon
AC360° Contributor

Today, Barack Obama will unveil his national security team – featuring Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Secretary of Defense Bob Gates, and National Security Advisor Jim Jones.

This is something of a centrist dream team, the latest sign of a confident, pragmatic president-elect who is fulfilling promises to appoint a 'Team of Rivals" while defying opposition campaign attempts to paint him as naïvely liberal.

Obama understands that Democrats have suffered from a deficit of confidence when it comes to national security and the economy. His cabinet appointments to date are designed to increase confidence on these fronts. Obama is showing himself to be cut from the same cloth as JFK: liberal on domestic policy, strong on foreign policy and the economy.

Hilary Clinton's appointment will gain the most attention from the media. She is a political star in her own right, possessing a global brand that will instantly add to her credibility in this office. But of course she was also Obama's most challenging rival in the 2008 campaign and his confidence in bringing her into his camp shows that he is the rare politician who is above petty interpersonal politics. Conservatives can take some comfort in this unlikely champion – because on most foreign policy issues she was decidedly to the right of the president-elect, especially when it came to Iraq and Iran.

But the real news of today's press conference is the reappointment of President Bush's Secretary of Defense Bob Gates and the nomination of retired Marine General Jim Jones to be National Security Advisor.

By keeping on the current president's much praised successor to the divisive Donald Rumsfeld, President-elect Obama is showing he understands the importance of continuity when our country is currently engaged in two wars. It is an unprecedented step most closely paralleled by JFK's decision to keep Eisenhower's Director of the CIA, Allen Dulles in place back in 1960.

The nomination of General Jones is no less an impressive reach across the aisle. Widely respected as a former NATO commander under President Bush, General Jones was also a supporter of John McCain. By bringing him into the West Wing to be the most senior advisor on national security issues to the president, Obama is showing that this is not a Potemkin Village attempt at creating the appearance of bipartisan cooperation. His is a substantive centrism with a multi-dimensional approach to America's foreign policy: winning the wider war on terror, engaging our allies, and dealing with 21st century security issues from Africa to energy independence.

Reasonable Republicans should feel an enormous degree of confidence with these appointments. As retiring Senator John Warner [R-VA] said, "The triumvirate of Gates, Clinton and Jones to lead Obama's 'national security team' instills great confidence at home and abroad and further strengthens the growing respect for the president-elect's courage and ability to exercise sound judgment in selecting the 'best and the brightest' to implement our nation's security policies."

Instead, it is the far left net-roots who are expressing the most anger about these appointments. Despite Obama's consistently centrist rhetoric throughout the course of his campaign and political career, many wanted to believe they were electing someone who would entirely repudiate the foreign policy of the Bush era.

Instead we are seeing something more like the transition from Presidents Truman to Eisenhower, responsible continuation of broad policy from a different perspective – recognizing that just because president's change, the preeminent foreign policy challenges of our time do not.

Taken together with the centrist economic appointments of Treasury Secretary-designate Tim Geithner, chief in-house economic advisor Larry Summers, as well as Paul Volcker and Austan Goolsbee, Obama is validating the confidence that moderate and independent voters placed in him on Election Day.

Gallup polls now show that nearly 70% of Americans believe that Obama will make a good president, well ahead of his Election Day support. He is forming the broadest possible problem-solving coalition for his administration. That's why from a centrist perspective, Barack Obama's cabinet appointments to date earn an A+.

Editor's note: John P. Avlon is the author of Independent Nation: How Centrists Can Change American Politics

Filed under: Barack Obama • Hillary Clinton • John P. Avlon • Raw Politics
soundoff (24 Responses)
  1. Matt


    Exactly what is it that Hillary is not a centrist on? Abortion? Gay rights? Domestic Health Care? Gun control?

    What do ANY of those things have to do with being Secretary of State????

    On almost every foreign policy issue, from Iraq to Russia to North Korea, Hillary is center-to-right. Certainly she falls between Rice, who has been Bush's toady, and Kerry, who wanted the job, and, frankly, probably expected it for his support in the primary. So, yes, she is a centrist choice.

    December 1, 2008 at 8:19 pm |
  2. Annie Kate

    I've been impressed with Obama so far. His picks for his administration and Cabinet so far are people that are the best and the brightest and should be able to forge a Cabinet who can work together for the best solution for our country no matter what the circumstances. I've also been impressed with Obama weaving the energy plan, the environment plan and the economy together in such a way that solutions in one of the plans will also help supply a solution to one or both of the other issues. Maybe I'm naive but I feel like our country with Obama as our leader is entering one of its golden eras – one that historians will talk about for a long time to come. Its rather exciting to be along for the ride.

    Annie Kate
    Birmingham AL

    December 1, 2008 at 7:00 pm |
  3. American Voter

    I completely agree- it is reassuring to me that Pres-Elect Obama has tapped the proven talent from the Bill Clinton years. Bill Clinton remains the best 2 term Democratic President in modern history and one who re-defined the party brand to be one of sound economic stewardship.
    Hillary Clinton is an excellent choice- strong, skilled, articulate and renowned and adored the world over.

    December 1, 2008 at 6:55 pm |
  4. NEAL

    Looks like Obama is Jimmy (The Peanut Farmer) Carter, Junior ...

    4 years of the former Clintonistas in control and we're back to the Democrat dream of a socialist-terrorist coddling USA!

    December 1, 2008 at 6:51 pm |
  5. Megan Dresslar (Shoreline, Wa)

    It is good choice to pick right people team..... I agree with bloggers! it will be good team together. So, I am so thrilled for them!
    Go Obama!

    December 1, 2008 at 6:50 pm |
  6. case

    LARRY: "Could Barack have gone with a ‘white’ identity; he was raised by his white mom and grandparents."

    Larry feel free to pass that message on to the KKK, Skin heads, Osama's number two, Ralph Nader.. and all the others who denouce Obama because of the color of his skin.....

    He is too black for you and not black enough for them. Obama shouldn't listen to either of you fools.

    December 1, 2008 at 6:18 pm |
  7. Lee

    Bill Carson....way to hate America, buddy!

    December 1, 2008 at 5:32 pm |
  8. crafty b

    Mike and Bill....

    It's refreshing to read your comments. Because as of a few weeks ago, these types of comments used to frustrate the he!! out've me. But in just a few short weeks, they've somehow become cute. Quaint. Dated. Almost like you were ranting about "Commies" or something.

    It's just a breath of fresh air to read your comments and laugh at how small the importance behind them has become. Enjoy your marginalization, friends. You've earned it.

    December 1, 2008 at 5:30 pm |
  9. Larry

    Leno & Letterman need more material, that's why bama chose HRC.

    December 1, 2008 at 5:30 pm |
  10. Texan

    How are his picks centrist? They are only centrist if you live in the left to far left world. Hillary is not a centrist, Obama's rhetoric in the campaign was anything but centrist. He is a joke, and the media will continue to lose viewers and the trust of the public if they keep blowing wind up his coat!

    December 1, 2008 at 5:21 pm |
  11. J0 Ann DANIELS

    How long does Obama have before anyone can give him credit? He has demonstrated time and time again that he has weighted every decision that he's made in the interest of the American people . The people that he is choosing are top of the line. Who else could take their places? Can anyone name more qualified people? Jo Ann, Texas

    December 1, 2008 at 5:19 pm |
  12. hugh ~ california

    Obama is going to steer clear from the fringes and govern from the middle because that is were both sides can agree on most policy decisions. Extremism usually results in nothing being accomplished, unless it occurs in a fascist government and I use the term fascist liberally.

    December 1, 2008 at 5:01 pm |
  13. Alex


    I agree completely with you.


    December 1, 2008 at 4:59 pm |
  14. Andrew in OR

    MIke in NYC what are you 70 and white? You should probably get with the times, no one is focusing on race except for you.

    December 1, 2008 at 4:37 pm |
  15. Bill Carson

    Just what we needed: another MSM editorial telling us how wonderful the left's messiah is. How long can this go on? Truly, will CNN flack for Obama for the entire next four years?

    He's not my messiah. I expect him to fail and, like I learned from the left, desperately want him to fail. I don't want to give him a chance. I want to attack him before he even gets into office. Oh, the left readers don't like that? I don't know why it should surprise anyone who adopted these tactics years ago. The left wanted to hate Bush with every fiber of their beings and now what the right to "give him the benefit of the doubt." It doesn't work that way!

    CNN and other media outlet can try to protect the ONE, but he's going to start making mistakes that CNN, the NY Times, the LA Times and other outlets won't be able to hide. He's going to bleed and I'm looking forward to it. This country needs to run that false messiah out on a rail like we did Jimmy Carter.

    December 1, 2008 at 4:24 pm |
  16. Larry

    Could Barack have gone with a 'white' identity; he was raised by his white mom and grandparents. BTW there are white people who have spent generations living in Africa, not everyone there is black; see Charlize Theron, who is considered african-american.

    December 1, 2008 at 4:17 pm |
  17. eight08

    Mike in NYC:
    Of course it would not be possible that this person is qualified, crazy smart, and has a good vision of where this country should be headed. It is, of course, about the "MSM" and "racial progress". Are you also one of those that still insist that he wasn't born in the U.S.? Give it up.

    December 1, 2008 at 4:07 pm |
  18. history

    It is an unprecedented step most closely paralleled by JFK’s decision to keep Eisenhower’s Director of the CIA, Allen Dulles in place back in 1960.

    Dulles and his entire staff were later dismissed by Kennedy who wanted to "splinter the CIA into a thousand pieces and scatter it into the winds." Bay of Pigs, failed assassinations, mafia involvement... that's the best parallel you could come up with?

    December 1, 2008 at 4:00 pm |
  19. Mike in NYC

    How can anyone believe that a President-elect chooses his team by himself? The selections are clearly made by consensus among vested interests, with the POTUS as a front.

    From the article:

    "Gallup polls now show that nearly 70% of Americans believe that Obama will make a good president..."

    The MSM will not allow BO to be seen as anything less than a success. For him to be perceived as a failure is simply not within the bounds of political possibility. The first black President must be seen as succeeding where the Evil White Man has failed. Anything less would set back "racial progress."

    December 1, 2008 at 1:18 pm |
  20. Larry

    Obama has no one to blame but himself for those selections.

    December 1, 2008 at 12:37 pm |
  21. earle,florida

    The only concern I have? Who really has PE Obama's ear....?

    December 1, 2008 at 12:14 pm |
  22. Betty Ann, Nacogdoches,TX

    Excellect cabinet although Fixed news does not agree.
    I however, am excited!!!!!
    Go "O"!

    December 1, 2008 at 11:30 am |
  23. maureen

    Obama's cabnet = Clinton + her cronies. Where's the change?

    December 1, 2008 at 10:54 am |
  24. Cindy

    Oh you know all of the talk will focus on Hillary and the appointments of Gates and Jones will be kicked to the curb and used as a by-line at best.


    December 1, 2008 at 9:42 am |