Salena Zito

How much change is needed in order to be the change we can believe in?

President-elect Barack Obama has to govern and people with experience are the ones who can help him govern most effectively, which is why you see so many veterans of the Clinton White House packing up and heading back to Washington.

The question becomes, how much potion can you add to the water before it becomes tainted? Part of the reason Democrats voted for Obama over Hillary Clinton in the primaries is that they wanted a new sheriff in town, new posse included.

“Every four years I tell people that it is critical to wait until the entire White House staff and Cabinet are selected before passing premature judgments,” says Larry Sabato, political science professor at the University of Virginia.

He points out that Washington is a maze of interest groups and treacherous traps and that presidents need experienced hands on board -- “Plus, he will have plenty of non-Clinton types in his inner circle.”

“Very few of the Clinton retreads are going to make the mistake of serving the old boss rather than the new boss,” Sabato says.

“Given the frosty relationship that exists between the Obamas and the Clintons, I don’t think many of these Clinton veterans will be saying to President Obama, ‘Well, this is how we did it in the Clinton administration’ or ‘This is what President Clinton would have done.’ ”

Joel Goldstein, a scholar of the presidency and a constitutional law professor at St. Louis University School of Law, says much of the change that Obama promised was from the last eight years, not from Clinton’s presidency.

Obama’s message was not that he wanted to blow up the system but to reform it, supposedly by minimizing special-interest influence and partisan bickering and by searching for common ground to get the people's business done.

“All of these initiatives suggest changes in the way in which Obama may approach governance,” Goldstein adds. “I suspect in many ways he will move more to the center on some issues at least -- at least the Democratic center -- than some of his supporters will like.”

To govern, you need some people who know how government works. Obama always has understood that; after all, he chose Joe Biden, hardly a government neophyte, as his vice president.

So no one should be surprised if he chooses some people who have Clinton administration service on their resumes. People such as John Podesta, Rahm Emanuel and Tom Daschle, who understand the executive branch and Congress and the White House, are invaluable if you are to avoid the sort of mistakes that plagued Presidents Carter and Clinton early on.


Salena Zito

Salena Zito is a political analyst, reporter and columnist.