Report Card: Obama Appointments and Nominations

This week, president-elect Barack Obama made the last of his major nominations and appointments for his staff. Barring a Nannygate type of scandal, we know who be sitting at the table in Obama’s White House.

As a result, it’s time to grade his choices.

Obama's Chief Of Staff Rahm Emanuel Addresses The Media At The Capitol

Rahm Emanuel
Chief of Staff
Biography: Emanuel, 48, served as a senior adviser to President Bill Clinton, and has represented the fifth congressional district of Illinois since 2002.

Grade: F
In the interest of full disclosure, let me say that there’s just something about Emanuel that bugs the crap out of me. I can’t explain it, and it’s not rational, but it’s there.

Add to that his opinion on community service (from his book):

John Kennedy was right: A nation is defined not by what it does for its citizens but by what it asks of them. If your leaders aren’t challenging you to do your part, they aren’t doing theirs. We need a real Patriot Act that brings out the patriot in all of us by establishing for the first time an ethic of universal citizen service. All Americans between the ages of 18 and 25 should be asked to serve their country by going through three months of basic civil defense training and community service. This is not a draft, nor is it military. Young people will be trained not as soldiers, but simply as citizens who understand their responsibilities in the event of a natural disaster, an epidemic or a terrorist attack. Universal citizen service will bring Americans of every background together to make America safer and more united in common purpose.

Last I checked, slavery was illegal. And I’m not sure what else you can call the forced labor of an entire people. Didn’t we fight a war over that?

Obama Campaigns Across The U.S. In Final Week Before Election

David Axelrod
Senior Advisor to the President
Biography, Axelrod, 53, is the senior partner of AKP&D Message and Media and was a political writer for the Chicago Tribune. He was chief strategist for the Obama Campaign.

Grade: B
It’s not unusual for a chief strategist to stay on with the presidency in an advisory role, and that’s how Axelrod will fit into the the Obama Administration.

Besides having a name that sounds like he belongs in an 80’s buddy cop movie, Axelrod appears to be a true believer in Obama, rather than just a mercenary consultant.

He strongly rejects comparisons between himself and Karl Rove.

He’s also good friends with Rahm Emanuel, which should help keep the White House trains running on time.

Greg Craig
White House Counsel
Biography: Craig, 63, is a Washington-based lawyer. He has represented numerous high-profile clients, including John Hinckley, Jr., who was acquitted of the attempted assassination of Ronald Reagan. As assistant to the President and special counsel in the White House of President Bill Clinton, Craig directed the team defending Clinton against impeachment. He was a foreign policy advisor to Senator Edward Kennedy and to Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.

Grade: B-
Craig was front and center for Obama when he caved on FISA.

On the other hand, he’s show a willingness to be the lawyer for the unpopular side of many high-profile cases (Elian Gonzalez, John Hinckley, the intelligence cases from the 70s, Annan in Oil for Food), a trait I actually respect in a shyster.

For a lawyer, I suppose he’s not too bad.

Meet The Press

Tom Daschle
Secretary of Health and Human Services
Biography: Daschle, 60, is a former Senate Majority Leader.

Grade: F
Daschle represents a return to big government to the front burner. Bush opened the door, and Daschle is going to walk right through. This pick is sure to make the socialist wing of the Democratic Party very happy.

In his book, Critical: What We Can Do About America’s Health-Care Crisis, he recommends creating the equivalent of the Federal Reserve Board for health care to set treatment standards, performance requirements and impose other mandates on the industry.

I don’t think what the medical industry needs is another layer of bureaucracy.

2008 Democratic National Convention: Day 4

Bill Richardson
Secretary of Commerce
Biography: Richardson, 61, is a two term governor of New Mexico, former presidential candidate, and Secretary of Energy under Clinton.

Grade: A-
I’m a fan of Bill Richardson.

He was my favorite in the Democratic Party primaries and I was hoping that Obama would pick Richardson as his running mate. Certainly I disagree with him on some of the issues, but he has some libertarian leanings and I just like his attitude, style, and point of view.

Maybe it’s that he’s a little chubby and has facial hair.

The only thing holding his grade down is that Obama should have named him Secretary of State, not Commerce.

Obama And Biden Announce Members Of Their Economic Team

Timothy Geithner
Secretary of the Treasury
Biography: Geithner, 48, is President and CEO of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. He joined the Department of the Treasury in 1988 and has served three presidents.

Grade: B
There is some debate as to whether Geithner is more of a William J. Clinton retread or a George W. Bush retread. Some say he has been calling the shots for Bernancke and Paulson all along.

And frankly, Bernancke and Paulson aren’t inspiring a lot of confidence right now. If he’ll stick to the deregulation trend that drove the 90’s, he might be the guy we need.

Henry Paulson Gives Address At Wall Street Journal CEO Council Event

Lawrence Summers
Director, National Economic Council
Biography: Summers, 54, is the Charles W. Eliot University Professor at Harvard University. Summers served as Secretary of the Treasury from 1999 to 2001 and as president of Harvard from 2001 to 2006. Notorious for his comments about the differences between men and women while president of Harvard.

Grade: A
Summers is a strong advocate for deregulation, and it was those leanings that lead to much of the growth in the 90’s.

As one of the leading economic thinkers of his generation, Summers is a strong addition to Obama’s economic team.

And, if he’s learned when not to say controversial things, he should be able to make strong contributions.

Christina Romer
Chair, Council of Economic Advisors
Biography: Romer, 50, is the Class of 1957 Professor of Economics at the University of California, Berkeley, where she has taught and researched since 1988.

Grade: A
Romer is known as an advocate of tax cuts, and a skeptic of the theory that tax cuts lead to spending cuts (a theory proven utterly wrong by George W. Bush).

If she can figure out an effective way to reduce spending, I’ll up her grade to an “A+” in a heartbeat!

Obama Makes Economic Announcement In Chicago

Paul Volcker
Chair, Economic Recovery Advisory Board
Biography: Volcker, 81, was the Chairman of the Federal Reserve under United States Presidents Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan (from August 1979 to August 1987).

Grade: A
Volker was the financial brains behind Reagan’s 1980s. He has shown a willingness to make the hard decision for the good of the long run, even though it might inflict pain in the short term.

Carter learned this first hand when Volker raised interest rates to fight inflation. In the short term, this threw us into recession and probably cost Carter the election. But it was clearly the correct long term choice, as it ushered in the long bull market that started in 1982.

Many thought he would be named to head Treasury. I’m just glad Obama has him on his team.

Obama Makes Economic Announcement In Chicago

Austan Goolsbee
Staff Director and Chief Economist, Economic Recovery Advisory Board
Member, Council of Economic Advisers
Biography: Goolsbee, 39, is the Robert P. Gwinn Professor of Economics at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business.

Grade: B+
I’m trying not to hold Goolsbee’s age against him. No one who is only a couple of weeks older than I am should be in a position of such importance.

In any case, there’s much to like about Goolsbee. He’s from the Chicago School of Economics, one of the most free market friendly schools of thought in the world. And it was Goolsbee who told the Canadians not to pay any attention to Obama’s anti-NAFTA claptrap.

He’s not a free marketer exactly. He’s interested in the efficiency of government, rather than the non-interference of government. He does have a solid understanding the Law of Unintended Consequences, however.

His policy recommendations don’t go as far as being laissez-faire, but they are policies made with more attention to sound economic research than we usually see from modern liberals.

Obama Announces Appointments Of Clinton, Gates, Nat'l Security Team

Hillary Clinton
Secretary of State
Biography: Clinton, 61, is a Former First Lady and presidential candidate. Two term Senator from New York.

Grade: D
Another disclosure: I’ve never liked Hillary Clinton.

She was by far the weaker of the Clinton Duo, and I don’t understand how someone who got where he or she has by riding someone’s coattails can be considered such a great example of success.

She also is arguably less charismatic than Condi Rice, which isn’t exactly an easy achievement.

I fear she’ll be way too prickly for diplomacy. In a time of such international challenges, with the USA’s reputation in the world already weakened, she could really cause damage.

Gates Tours Fort Bragg Training Centers

Robert Gates
Secretary of Defense
Biography: Gates, 65, is the current Defense Secretary and former president of Texas A&M University. Spent 26 years in the Central Intelligence Agency and the National Security Council, and under President George H. W. Bush as Director of Central Intelligence.

Grade: B
Anyone who pisses off the far left wing of the Democratic Party the way Gates does can’t be all bad. And, to be fair, the Iraq War has certainly run better with him at the helm.

I even try to give him a pass on the Aggie thing.

But one promise I really hoped Obama would deliver on was a quick exit from Iraq. Retaining Gates is likely a harbinger of an extended stay in Bagdad.

Obama Announces Appointments Of Clinton, Gates, Nat'l Security Team

Eric Holder
Attorney General
Biography: Holder, 57, is a former Judge of the Superior Court of the District of Columbia, United States Attorney and Deputy Attorney General of the United States.

Grade: F
We’ll start with Holder’s role in the Elian Gonzalez case. Maybe he’s just like all politicians.

Unfortunately, he’s also horrible on the Second Amendment.

And just to make things fun, he’s an unapologetic drug warrior

Sounds like we have the Democratic Party version of John Ashcroft.

2008 Democratic National Convention: Day 2

Janet Napolitano
Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security
Biography: Napolitano, 51, is the governor of Arizona.

Grade: A-
First of all, Napolitano helped kill RealID, for which I will always be grateful. While she did say that she might be able to support RealID if it were properly funded, I’ll take the positive outcomes where I can get them.

Reports are that she is well thought of by the current leadership in DHS and among the emergency management community.

In Arizona, she has seemed to favor competence and pragmatism over ideology, winning the governor’s house as a Democratic woman in a heavily Republican state.

She’s also known as staunch border control and anti-illegal immigration advocate, having become embroiled in the Chandler Roundup in 1997. This stance, unfortunately, is virtually a requirement to attain office in a border state like Arizona.

Whether her views will move with her to Washington remains to be seen.

President-elect Obama appoints national security team in Chicago

Susan Rice
Ambassador to the United Nations
Biography: Rice, 44, served on the National Security Council and as Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs during Clinton’s second term.

Grade: C+
I’m not a huge fan of the United Nation, but accept that it’s a necessary evil.

Relations between the UN and the USA under Bush have been strained, to say the least, and Obama has shown his intent to heal these rifts by restoring the U.N. ambassadorship to Cabinet rank, the status it had during the Clinton years.

Rice is yet another hawk in the Obama administration, who has tended to favor the stick over the carrot in dealings with Africa. She has solid humanitarian credentials, but advocates aggressive tactics in the furtherance of her goals.

She’s also shown some very questionable judgement at times. Rice was aide to Richard Clarke at the National Security Council in the 1990s. Together they wrote “Presidential Decision Directive 25” (PDD-25), a controversial Clinton policy document that urged the use of U.N. peacekeepers as surrogates for real military forces in the mistaken belief that warring parties would respect and not fire on lightly armed U.N. forces wearing blue helmets.

We can expect her to take interventionalist stance on many issues.

Obama Announces Appointments Of Clinton, Gates, Nat'l Security Team

General Jim Jones, USMC (Ret)
National Security Advisor
Biography: Jones, 64, previously served as Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR) (2003–06) and the commander of the United States European Command (COMUSEUCOM) (2003–06) and as the 32nd Commandant of the Marine Corps (July 1999–January 2003). Jones retired from the United States Marine Corps on February 1, 2007, after 40 years of service.

Grade: B+
As a lifer Marine, Jones is as buttoned down as they come. He was a dark horse candidate to be Obama’s running mate until he showed up at a McCain event.

All reports are that he is a solid choice, with extensive experience in diplomacy as well as war.

Add him to Clinton and Gates, and you have your hawkish wing of the Obama White House, all of whom supported the Iraq War at one point or another. I can only hope he’ll take a Colin Powell-esqe role as peacemonger.


In short, I’m relatively happy with Obama’s economic picks. They tend to believe in deregulation and the markets.

His foreign policy picks are far too hawkish for my taste.

My opinions are fairly mixed on everyone else.

4 Comments on “Report Card: Obama Appointments and Nominations

  1. Brian Gallegos

    Interesting post BC. I like it.

    Couple thoughts.

    1. I particularly like your thoughts and grades for Holder and Summers.
    2. I think Hillary will take a pragmatic approach to international diplomacy and do her best not to rock the boat. I’m gonna bet that she moves more to the center in this role in part due to the chip on her shoulder from the mid-left of the D party abandoning her in the primaries (although she never really was their darling).
    3. What grade would you give the choice of POTUS and VPOTUS?


  2. Brian Combs

    Grading VPotUS is easy: D.

    I’m not a Joe Biden fan. In my opinion, he represents everything that is wrong with Washington. His pick was one of the first truly disappointing things Obama has done, as far as I’m concerned.

    As for Obama himself, I’m a bit conflicted and not yet ready to give him a grade.

    There is an awful lot to like about him, but some of his statements make me a bit nervous. I went into this in detail in my Post Election Thougths.

    We’re going to learn a lot about Barack Obama in the next few months. Come January 21st, he has to start taking real stands on the issues.

  3. Brian Combs

    By the way, I sure hope you’re right about Hillary.

  4. An Inauspicious Start for Geithner |

    […] on the nomination of Tim Geithner for Treasury Secretary, giving him a “B” when I graded Obama’s appointments. Since the appointment, however, he’s been less than […]

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