Todd S. Purdum of Vanity Fair published an article yesterday regarding President Obama’s cabinet titled, “Team of Mascots.” It is quite good though I believe he misses some obvious points regarding both Barack Obama and Mitt Romney. Unfortunately many writers presume that just because one is elected to higher office, that person must be a leader. Barack Obama is a perfect example in which this is not the case.
Just four years ago, when it was clear that he would be the Democratic presidential nominee, Barack Obama famously declared that, if elected, he would want “a team of rivals” in his Cabinet, telling Joe Klein, of Time magazine, “I don’t want to have people who just agree with me. I want people who are continually pushing me out of my comfort zone.” His inspiration was Doris Kearns Goodwin’s best-selling book about Abraham Lincoln, who appointed three men who had been his chief competitors for the presidency in 1860—and who held him, at that point, in varying degrees of contempt—to help him keep the Union together during the Civil War. To say that things haven’t worked out that way for Obama is the mildest understatement. “No! God, no!” one former senior Obama adviser told me when I asked if the president had lived up to this goal. There’s nothing sacred about the team-of-rivals idea—for one thing, it depends on who the rivals were. Obama does have one former rival, Hillary Clinton, in his Cabinet, and another, Joe Biden, is vice president. Mitt Romney would have fewer options. Can anyone really imagine Romney making Rick Santorum his secretary of health and human services, or Herman Cain his commerce secretary, or Newt Gingrich the administrator of nasa? Well, maybe the last, if only so Romney could have the satisfaction of sending the former Speaker—bang! zoom!—to the moon! For the record, Gingrich has said he’d be unlikely to accept any position in a Romney administration, and Romney himself has given almost no real hints about whom he might appoint. In light of his propensity to bow to prevailing political pressures, his Cabinet might well be, as he described himself, “severely conservative.”
While Purdum makes some great points throughout his piece, it is clear he has not done his homework on Governor Romney. Our Jeff Fuller reminded me as I prepared for this post:
“Romney’s history as Governor was to have weekly lunch meetings with the Democratic Senate Majority Leader and Speaker of the House of the Massachusetts legislature to discuss issues and work out plans.”
Barack Obama is the opposite of Governor Romney in this regard. Much has been written on background about Obama’s involvement with members of either house of Congress. He has very little desire to lower himself into any trench with some congressman from Podunk, Kansas to work anything out, let alone subject himself to veteran Senate and House negotiators for the purpose of compromise! In my opinion, the whole “team of rivals” was a crock — campaign window dressing for the obvious self-emulation to the Lincoln association — nothing more. To Jeff’s Fuller’s point to me, “How often does Obama meet with Boehner? Obama can’t stand to be challenged … that’s the biggest issue for him…”
In my opinion, Barack Obama lacks the self-confidence that would allow himself to be challenged in any meaningful way. As the most prominent world “PM” I consider him to be most insecure in this regard (see previous post on Obama’s narcissism). For this reason, among many others, I do not consider Barack Obama to be “a leader” at all. If I ever refer to President Obama as “a leader” it is rare; his lack of leadership experience is now legendary.
Obama has surrounded himself mostly with a team of loyalists. They range from the very competent (Janet Napolitano at Homeland Security) to the perennially controversial (Eric Holder at Justice) to the underwhelmingly anonymous (could anyone but a union leader pick Labor Secretary Hilda Solis out of a lineup?). In the main, Obama relates to his Cabinet the way he relates to the rest of the world. “He’s a total introvert,” the former adviser told me. “He doesn’t need people.”
The days when presidential Cabinets contained the likes of Thomas Jefferson as secretary of state, or Alexander Hamilton as secretary of the Treasury, are long since gone (and those early Cabinets displayed a fractiousness that no modern president would be likely to tolerate)
Though a President Romney probably would not tolerate “fractiousness,” that is true, Americans will likely be surprised to see the stature of those he appoints. Governor Romney knows strong leadership better than most. He has met often with many of America’s greatest leaders and thinkers over the years and has formed many strong relationships among them. Though it is not in Mitt Romney’s DNA to telegraph to the public who would make up his cabinet, his leadership style is such that he is far more likely to surround himself with strong leaders to challenge his own thinking. Any serious student of Romney’s leadership knows this.
By any measure, Barack Obama is a very weak leader and I believe he knows it — he is therefore insecure in this regard. The opposite is true of Mitt Romney. He is highly secure and confident in his ability to take the lead in any setting among the strongest of contemporary leaders.
Purdum ended with this,
Lincoln’s choice of William H. Seward at State, Salmon P. Chase at Treasury, and Edward Bates as attorney general were far from universally applauded. “The construction of a Cabinet,” one editorial admonished at the time, “like the courting of a shrewd girl, belongs to a branch of the fine arts with which the new Executive is not acquainted.” Lincoln’s Cabinet did solve one political problem but it created others—Lincoln had to fight not one but two civil wars.
For fear of placing the cart in front of the horse, I am very reluctant to start a discussion of Romney’s possible cabinet choices. That said, I know two things in this regard: 1) Every cabinet level leader President Romney selects will be a tested and proven executive whose leadership is highly respected, and 2) Each one of these appointees will be a strong leader in the sense of assertively challenging President Romney in a team mentality to build a better America. It would not be surprising to any person that knows Governor Romney’s leadership record if his cabinet includes great American leaders that are Democrat — a true “team” of rivals.
Click here to read: The entire TEAM OF MASCOTS article by Todd S. Purdum