Thursday, November 20, 2008


Obama cabinetry that is. Obama has invoked Lincoln as an executive role model for forming a cabinet for a long time. Lincoln famously put his chief political rivals in his cabinet - William Seward to Secretary of State, Salmon Chase to Secretary of the Treasury and Edwin Stanton to Secretary of War - as immortalized by a brilliant series of novels by Gore Vidal, a superbly-timed book by underrated public intellectual Doris Kearns Goodwin and books innumerable. There are a number of things to be said for this kind of approach. One's enemies are kept close, their fortunes yolked to yours. Ideally they altogether cease to be enemies as the national project moves forward, but idealizations are idealizations. I wouldn't take either the cynical view or the lotus-eating view. It looks to me that our man is stocking up on political power, both within the Democratic Party and beyond, and in this respect is indeed closer to the Lincoln model than the other model currently on offer, the Kennedy "best and the brightest" model. His cabinet decisions so far have been lining up political heavyweights for the battling ahead.
I think that this a good thing. What I liked about John Edwards 2.0 was his understanding that reform of government policies involving the automotive, banking, financial, insurance, medical, pharmaceutical and oil and gas industries would necessarily involve fights that some would win and others lose, and that some of these antagonists are very powerful and will not concede anything easily. We do need to revalue and reemphasize intelligence and analysis, as the Kennedy brothers consciously tried to do after the sleepy 50s, but the situation calls for some tough political battling, and in turning to Clinton, Daschle, Emanuel and such Obama is clearly shopping for political firepower.
An example of the battle that is unfolding right now is the fight over how to protect the automotive industry. Although many advocates of bankruptcy are sincere in their good intentions for the industry, it is true that taking that course would be hugely advantageous to the stockholders at the expense of the workers. I say, money comes with strings attached. The US does indeed have an interest in a population of several hundred thousands of workers, many of them highly skilled and experienced as machinists, electricians and for many other trades, not to mention a huge physical plant for manufacturing and transportation that extends from western Pennsylvania to Minnesota. Not only that, but auto markets worldwide are expected to greatly expand as demand rises from developing countries in Asia and elsewhere, where most consumers want cheap, efficient, reliable cars. The US ought to do what is in the best interests of the country, and that is to take this opportunity to rebuild the auto industry from the ground up. An American auto industry that had a cultish devotion to energy conservation, minimizing the carbon footprint, capitalizing on waste flows, fuel efficiency and economy would be a very formidable industry internationally. I suspect that it would not be the younger generation of workers who would resist such a cultural shift, but the older managers and owners. Just a hunch. Meanwhile it is an ideal opportunity to design such a retooling and reform with a new labor dispensation in terms of pensions and above all health insurance.
Neither management types nor union types much like this kind of liberal ranting from the blogosphere, I know, but calm down: all of these things can be achieved well short of any sort of nationalizing or union-busting or choose your poison. It is not unreasonable to point out the obvious outlines of a national manufacturing policy, and liquidity should not simply be pumped out into the monetary ocean. Companies that have the will to adapt should be helped. In fact, the US automobile industry has demonstrated great adaptability in the past. At the same time, Obama's need to amass some political authority could not be more clear.

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