Michael Gerson

WASHINGTON -- It is a lineup generous in its moderation, astonishing for its continuity, startling for its stability.

A secretary of defense, Robert Gates, who once headed the George Bush School of Government and Public Service at Texas A&M. A secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, who supported the invasion of Iraq, voted to label the Iranian Revolutionary Guard a terrorist organization and called direct, unconditional talks with Iran "irresponsible and frankly naive." A national security adviser, retired Gen. James Jones, most recently employed at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, who served as a special adviser to the Bush administration on the Middle East. A secretary of the Treasury, Timothy Geithner, who is one of Henry Paulson's closest allies outside the administration. A head of the Council of Economic Advisers, Christina Romer, whose writings and research seem to favor low tax rates, stable money and free trade.

It is tempting for conservatives to crow -- or liberals to lament -- that Barack Obama's victory has somehow produced John McCain's administration. But this partisan reaction trivializes some developments that, while early and tentative, are significant.

First, these appointments add evidence to a debate about the political character of the president-elect himself. Conservatives have generally feared that Obama is a closet radical. He has uniformly voted with liberal interests and done nothing to justify a reputation for centrism.

Until now. Obama's appointments reveal not just moderation but maturity -- magnanimity to past opponents, a concern for continuity in a time of war and economic crisis, a self-confidence that allows him to fill gaps in his own experience with outsized personalities, and a serious commitment to incarnate his rhetoric of unity.

All the normal caveats apply. It is still early. Obama is benefiting from being the only player on the stage -- all his pretensions of moderation could be quickly undermined by a liberal Congress, unhinged by its expanded majority. And Obama's social liberalism could still turn Washington into a culture-war battlefield.

But honesty requires this recognition: So far, Barack Obama has the instincts and ambitions of a large political figure.

Michael Gerson

Michael Gerson writes a twice-weekly column for The Post on issues that include politics, global health, development, religion and foreign policy. Michael Gerson is the author of the book "Heroic Conservatism" and a contributor to Newsweek magazine.
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