Hillary Clinton, State
By appointing Hillary Clinton to the all-important post of Secretary of State, Obama has gone a long way towards healing the internal rifts caused by the bitter Democratic primaries. However, he also runs the risk of handing too much power to a former rival, who already enjoys substantial clout both at home and abroad. Still, the choice of a political heavyweight will no doubt give credence to the president’s pledge to play an active role in the world’s numerous hot spots. And should things work out well, the two could prove to be a formidable double act on the international stage.
One man has survived the transition: Defence Secretary Robert Gates. With the country engaged in two wars and its armed forces badly stretched, Obama would have been ill-advised to experiment at the Pentagon. A figure respected on both sides of the political spectrum, Gates won plaudits for helping to clear some of the mess left by his predecessor, Donald Rumsfeld, in Iraq. He now faces a potentially tougher challenge with the Bush administration’s other unfinished business - Afghanistan.
Obama has picked a duo of seasoned policymakers to direct efforts to stem the country’s worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. Timothy Geithner, former head of the New York Fed and the president’s choice for Treasury Secretary, commands respect from both sides of the political spectrum, as well as from business leaders. Though it emerged he had failed to pay $34,000 in taxes between 2001 and 2004 in what appears to have been an innocent mistake, the affair is unlikely to derail his nomination.
A former treasury secretary under Bill Clinton, Obama’s top economic adviser, Larry Summers, has buckets of experience in managing the US economy. A one-time president of Harvard University, Summers has been a strong critic of the Bush administration’s response to the financial crisis. Yet, as the man who presided over the laissez-faire economy of the 1990s, some question whether he is best qualified to bring about the “change” promised by Obama.
Few bodies have received more criticism of late than the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), whose job it was to keep an eye on unruly practices in the financial markets. The person chosen to restore the watchdog’s credibility is Mary Schapiro, an experienced regulator described by Obama as “smart and tough”. Yet, critics points out that she failed to detect Bernard Madoff and other fraudsters while she led the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority. Will she fare better in her new job?
A staunch critic of torture and the practice of waterboarding, Eric Holder is Obama’s pick to head the Justice Department. Another veteran of the Clinton era, Holder is set to become the United States’ first black attorney general. However, his record is slightly tainted by his part in the last-minute pardon granted by the outgoing President Bill Clinton to Marc Rich, an investor sentenced for tax evasion, fraud and breaching the oil embargo on Iran.
Obama’s pick to reform the fragmented US health system, Tom Daschle, could well face an even steeper challenge. Obama has promised to push through an overhaul of the US health system and to dramatically expand health insurance. Past attempts to provide comprehensive state-sponsored health care have almost invariably stumbled in Congress. Yet few people know Capitol Hill better than Daschle, a former Democratic Senate leader, and with economic crisis adding to people’s hardships, the timing could hardly be better.
A Nobel prize laureate for physics and firm believer in the threat of climate change, Energy Secretary Steven Chu could hardly be more representative of the wind of change that is sweeping over Washington. Chu is expected to work with former environment chief Carol Browner to boost renewable energy sources and put “green” jobs at the heart of the economy’s recovery.