by Jeremy Young | 11/02/2008 07:55:00 PM
From an otherwise excellent Daily Kos post by Meteor Blades:

Barack Obama’s promise of bipartisanship has a welcome sound to it. His well-known respect for the ideas in Team of Rivals, Doris Kearns Goodwin’s book of how Abraham Lincoln brought people into his Cabinet who had opposed him in his own newly invented party and some Democrats as well. As in Lincoln’s time, the nation is deeply in crisis, or rather crises, a flood of domestic, international and atmospheric problems with as yet no certain fixes. Bipartisanship is crucial under the circumstances.


I should start out by saying that I don't agree with the argument in Team of Rivals for a variety of reasons. But that said, let's look at Lincoln's supposedly "bipartisan" Cabinet in 1861:



Position/Name/Party

Secretary of State/William H. Seward/Republican
Secretary of War/Simon Cameron/Republican
Secretary of the Treasury/Salmon P. Chase/Republican
Secretary of the Navy/Gideon Welles/Republican
Secretary of the Interior/Caleb Blood Smith/Republican
Postmaster General/Montgomery Blair/Republican
Attorney General/Edward Bates/Republican


Nice show of bipartisanship there, huh? Of course, all of these men had held other party affiliations previously, since the Republican Party was only seven years old when Lincoln took office. Still, it's noteworthy that six of the seven cabinet members had been registered Republicans since the first year of the party's existence, 1854. The seventh, Simon Cameron, had joined in 1857, four years before he was chosen to serve in Lincoln's cabinet.

Lincoln did later choose several prominent Democrats, including Edwin M. Stanton, to fill Cabinet vacancies, and even picked one of them (Andrew Johnson) to be his Vice President in 1864. But that's not the point Goodwin's trying to make in Team of Rivals. Her point is that Lincoln offered Cabinet positions to his major rivals in his own party. Seward, Chase, and Bates were his most serious challengers for the Republican nomination in 1860. Lincoln did, therefore, violate the "elections have consequences" rule in another way, by giving Cabinet posts to defeated convention candidates (although a convention is different from today's primaries and probably shouldn't be subject to the same rule). But advocates of bipartisanship shouldn't hold up Lincoln's cabinet as their justification. Lincoln didn't put a single Democrat in his Cabinet in 1861; he followed his obligation to the people who voted him into office and cleaned house -- exactly what Obama needs to do.

Team of Rivals is a 916-page book that can be boiled down into a simple sound-bite, and too many people get that sound-bite wrong. If you like Team of Rivals -- which I don't -- you should want Obama to offer Cabinet posts to Hillary Clinton and John Edwards, not Chuck Hagel and Dick Lugar. Lincoln didn't put Democrats in his Cabinet because he was too busy fighting them on the battlefield; today, Obama wants to surround himself with Republicans even as we finally score a decisive victory against them in the culture wars. That's a serious mistake, and we need to recognize it as such now, before his new Republican advisors negate the electoral victory he's on the verge of winning.

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6 Comments:


Blogger mark on 11/02/2008 11:30 PM:

A caveat, if I may:

Lincoln was careful to give coveted appointments as general officers in the Union Army, to Democrats such as to John Logan of Illinois. The two-time commander of the Army of the Potomac, George McClellan was a Democrat ( and later ran against Lincoln in 1864) and then of course there was Andrew Johnson, loyalist Democrat of Tennessee as vice-president.

Given that there was considerable Copperhead sentiment in the Democratic Party during the Civil War, which at times crossed the line into treason and conspiracy, how much more bipartisan could Lincoln have reasonably been ?

 

Blogger Jeremy Young on 11/03/2008 12:41 AM:

Well, the reasonableness is in question -- Obama seems ready to be unreasonably bipartisan, to my way of thinking. But point taken about the political generalships (though I don't think McClellan qualifies -- he would have gotten the position on merit alone).

 

Blogger Ahistoricality on 11/03/2008 10:06 AM:

I'm going to declare myself out of this discussion entirely: I'm rooting for a cabinet of experts, people with credible credentials and a history of learning from reality.

The number of political loyalists on either side who fit that description is pretty weak.

Also, unless the [obligatory conditional] Obama presidency takes a very different tack than the current administration (and I certainly hope so, but inertia's a powerful thing), cabinet posts may be little more than figureheads, anyway.

 

Blogger Jeremy Young on 11/03/2008 11:27 AM:

For the most part, I agree with you. If Obama fills his cabinet with eggheads, I don't care what party they're from. It's the political insiders that worry me. (I would say, however, that the Dems have an incredibly deep bence in foreign policy: Richard Holbrooke, Bill Richardson, Anthony Lake, Anne-Marie Slaughter...the list goes on and on.) And a caveat: SecDef, at least, has been VERY important in the Bush administration...

 

Blogger Ahistoricality on 11/06/2008 11:58 AM:

this seems promising.

 

Blogger Jeremy Young on 11/06/2008 12:18 PM:

Very much so -- I'm glad some things are improving already...