Support Marketplace

Can Obama control his team's egos?

Dan Drezner

TEXT OF COMMENTARY

SCOTT JAGOW: Today, Hillary Clinton laid out her vision for U.S. foreign policy. She was testifying at Senate confirmation hearings. She's Barack Obama's pick for secretary of State.

Not all of Obama's nominees are from his own party. He's reaching across the aisle, and that seems like a good strategy for cutting through bipartisanship. But it can be risky, as history points out.

Here's Commentator Dan Drezner.


DAN DREZNER: There is a crisis of leadership in the United States. Politically, we're in a transition period where George W. Bush is still the president but has no real authority. Beyond the beltway, America has also lost confidence in our economic and financial leaders. The reputations of Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson and Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke have taken a big hit. Financial titans like Alan Greenspan and Robert Rubin have been discredited. Even Warren Buffet's faith in the stock market looks wrong-headed. It is, therefore, not surprising that Americans are looking to president-elect Barack Obama to provide leadership.

In response, Obama consciously embraces a "Team of Rivals" approach to management. This catchphrase is the title of Doris Kearns Goodwin's book about Abraham Lincoln's cabinet. Goodwin argues that these experienced, ambitious men all thought themselves deserving of the presidency. And yet, through Lincoln's leadership, they managed to win the Civil War and preserve the Union. But other leaders were not as successful.

Millard Fillmore appointed his rivals, and his presidency was not covered in glory. George W. Bush's first cabinet was also a group of experienced, ambitious organization men, and look how that turned out. A cabinet of bickering egotists is just as likely to implode as excel.

The key factor that will determine whether this team of rivals works well together is Barack Obama's leadership style. George W. Bush put together a group of strong-willed individuals, but displayed little interest in refereeing disputes among them. Will Obama do better?

Obama's preternatural calm provides one clue. With markets and politicians in a state of panic, Obama has demonstrated that he appreciates the gravity of the situation but will not be overwhelmed by it. Even more encouraging is Obama's ability to understand and explain contending points of view. If Obama can show his cabinet that he has truly heard their views, they will be more willing to support him, even if he goes in another direction. By encouraging debate without alienating his team of egos, Barack Obama might just plug the leadership gap.

JAGOW: Dan Drezner is a professor of international politics at Tufts University. His most recent book is called "All Politics is Global."

Comments

I agree to American Public Media's Terms and Conditions.
With Generous Support From...