KERNS: Slim pickins



Bryan Kerns

Well, the honeymoon is over. It didn’t really last all that long. Barack Obama has already made more executive decisions as president-elect than George Bush made as president in his first eight months in office. This might be the most hyped transfer of power since “Laguna Beach” shifted to “The Hills.”

This is also one of the few presidential transitions in history in which there have been major military engagements abroad coupled with economic crises at home. So far, the voters seem to have responded well to the manner in which Obama is overseeing the transition. A recent poll concluded that three-fourths of Americans have confidence in his ability to pick cabinet officers.

With that in mind, it is being strongly reported that the president-elect is considering the nomination of Sen. Hillary Clinton to be secretary of state. Such a nomination would be nearly unprecedented. It seems a bit cliché to use Abraham Lincoln as a model for picking your cabinet, and Obama runs the risk of setting impossibly high expectations for himself if he ties his fate to appearing like Lincoln. After all, no states seem to be considering secession.

Regardless, though, picking Clinton for a high-profile cabinet position gives Obama the unique advantage of being able to dispatch a person whose reputation overseas is perhaps beyond repute while eliminating her from domestic policy conversations in which she would have been able to disagree with the president from the Senate.

Clinton is also essentially forced to accept the job lest she be seen as turning it down and causing fissures in the Democratic Party after a long and acrimonious primary season. Despite the apparent risks of naming Clinton to his cabinet, Obama has total advantage over just about anyone in Washington right now.

The potential problems lie in his handling of the remaining bailout funds and the crisis in the auto industry. The flummox of the market that would emanate from a bankruptcy by General Motors or Ford would have huge effects, even if bankruptcy itself would have limited direct impact on the production of vehicles.

At most, the bankruptcy court would oversee the reorganization of the company while declaring null and void the lucrative United Auto Worker contracts and agreements with dealer networks that tie the financial workings of these companies into extraordinarily complex knots.

The idea of a bailout for the auto makers is utterly repugnant to some, as it would be rewarding the companies with taxpayer dollars despite years of operating under a bad business model and lacking product innovation, rewarding marginally competent executives with absurd salaries.

Equally strong views are found on the side of the proponents of an auto bailout. The supporters see it as a way to prop up the American economic system given the number of jobs tied to the big three auto manufacturers and all of the subsidiary industries.

It’s also an open question as to whether or not anything will get done in this month’s lame duck session of Congress and whether the final legislation – if any – will come during the session or after Obama is inaugurated in January.

The Bush Administration has recently decided to leave Obama and his colleagues a $350 billion gift in the White House as a token of their appreciation for a successful transition. This is otherwise known as the other half of the massive $700 billion bailout to the financial services industry.

There are two lines of thinking about this: Either Bush is letting Obama set his policies and doesn’t want to get in the way, or he’s setting the new president up to take the blame for whatever might go wrong with the economy in the next year. In actuality, it’s probably a combination of the two.

Two months from now, the chief justice and the president-elect are going to get together on the steps of the Capitol and do a little call and response otherwise known as the oath of office. Despite that being the official moment at which Obama assumes the stewardship of the nation, he’s being challenged with a number of huge decisions even before assuming office.

Let’s hope he chooses wisely.


Bryan Kerns is a sophomore honors and humanities major from Drexel Hill, Pa. He can be reached at [email protected].