You know those action films where the hero has to assemble a rag-tag group of mercenaries to bring down the bad guy? Watching the gradual development of President-elect Barack Obama’s cabinet has been kind of like watching one of those. Granted, these aren’t hardened mercenaries we’re dealing with — these are Washington power players, after all — but the process has the same kind of cinematic thrill.
Certainly, this process wouldn’t have been as exciting had John McCain won. It has to do with Obama himself — with the assembly of his cabinet, any doubts or fears about him can be assuaged or confirmed. For a president with as little experience as Obama, his success hinges upon the people working with him.

And, sure enough, every new addition to this motley crew raises more questions, more controversies. Perhaps none have been more divisive than that of Hillary Clinton as secretary of state, a choice that has already led many writers, like The Washington Post’s David Ignatius, to bemoan the future of Obama’s administration.

So what is Obama doing? Many of his choices seem to contradict the no drama/new politics attitude his campaign leaders used to get him elected. Choices like Hillary not only seem like purposeful jabs at far-left-wingers, but also ways of harkening back to the “old days” of the Clinton administration — odd for a politician who supposedly embodies the new political order.

In fact, Obama has been angering certain Democrats quite frequently in recent weeks. Not only with some of his staff picks, but also with his call to let moderate Sen. Joe Lieberman, an independent who caucuses with the Democrats, remain as the chairman of the Homeland Security Committee. Democrats wanted to oust Lieberman as revenge for backing McCain during the presidential race.
But Obama’s choices are pragmatic and reasonable, whether the liberals want to admit it or not. Our economy sucks. We are at war. There are radicals out there who talk of destroying us and our allies. The solutions to these problems do not lie in the hands of the far left — and Obama knows this. Decisions like selecting Rahm Emmanuel for chief of staff and possibly bringing Robert Gates back to continue as defense secretary show an unexpected shift to the center.

Take Emmanuel. An avid supporter of Israel, the former senior adviser in the Clinton administration is known to be tough and idealistic — in the early ’90s he did a brief stint as a volunteer mechanic in Israel during the Gulf War. He’s exactly the kind of man anti-Israel leftists don’t want in the White House — and that makes me feel good. Besides, when members of Al-Qaeda are publicly endorsing Obama, it’s clear we need a public official who knows the Middle East and is able to take a firm stance on the issues related to that region.

Then there’s Timothy Geithner, Obama’s pick for treasury secretary. A kind of Wall Street wunderkind, Geithner generally isn’t viewed in a partisan light. And his knowledge of the ins and outs of the American financial system is essential at a time when that system is going through a prolonged crisis.
And, of course, there’s Hillary. If anything, choosing her to be secretary of state is symbolic of Obama’s apparent refusal to kowtow to the expectations of the far left. It’s also a decision that illustrates a boldness I like. No longer is Obama the golden child of the left; he’s making decisions that have repercussions even among his own party members, but decisions that he feels confident about regardless.

More significantly, though, many of Obama’s choices are centrists. The conservatives’ fear that an Obama administration would move this country far to the left seems superfluous now. There’s no question Obama has made many good choices in the past few weeks. Because of this, Americans — conservatives, moderates and liberals alike — have a lot to be optimistic about.

Brandon Conradis can be reached at brconrad@umich.edu.

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