Barack Obama and his team of Cabinet-vetters and political balancers were doing so well there for a while. At key departments like State and Treasury, the president-elect was putting together not just a team of rivals but of tough, experienced, promising ones:
The new secretary of state would be the candidate he'd managed to edge out for his party's presidential nomination -- a politician who takes no prisoners, as anyone who's ever dealt with Hillary Clinton can testify. It's a tough world out there, and Barack Obama chose a tough woman to deal with it. By doing so, he let bygones be bygones, rose above a long series of hard-fought primary campaigns, and put the national interest first. Impressive.
Ditto his choice for secretary of the treasury, Timothy Geithner. As head of the New York Federal Reserve, he's been a key player in the Bush administration's dramatic moves to rescue the country's -- and the world's -- banking system. It took more than guts for the next president to have chosen as his secretary of the treasury a financial insider so intimately connected with the Bush administration. It took a willingness to put talent, however controversial, before political passions. Yes, impressive.
But how explain the un-nomination of Bill Richardson as secretary of commerce? Answer: Don't bother. Secretary of commerce is scarcely a key Cabinet position, and hasn't been since Herbert Hoover's day. By Henry Wallace's, it had become a place for a president to stash a politician he didn't quite know what to do with. Bill Richardson's having to decline a post in this administration -- something about a grand jury investigation -- is only an early, minor embarrassment for the incoming administration. It'll soon be forgotten. Every new administration is almost entitled to an early, minor embarrassment.
Then came the announcement of Barack Obama's choice as head of the Central Intelligence Agency -- no minor appointment when the country is involved in two wars (Iraq and Afghanistan) and a third, over-arching War on Terror. Of course, some of the president-elect's most ardent supporters may consider that last war just a figment of the Bush administration's imagination. For it's been almost eight years since September 11, 2001, and no nation forgets the lessons of history as quickly and regularly as good ol' amnesiac America.