Off to a good start

Obama appears ready to govern from the center

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It remains to be seen what kind of president Barack Obama will be. But so far he's been a terrific president-elect.

The stock market rose nearly 500 points on the day Mr. Obama announced his treasury secretary will be Timothy Geithner, 47, the president of the Federal Reserve Bank in New York. Mr. Geithner is a protege of former Clinton treasury secretaries Robert Rubin and Lawrence Summers. He worked closely with current Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson and Federal Reserve Board Chairman Ben Bernanke in structuring the $700 billion bailout of financial institutions. But Mr. Geithner has won praise even from bailout skeptics such as Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., the ranking Republican on the Senate Banking Committee, who described his nomination as "a breath of fresh air."

Mr. Geithner is by no means the only well-qualified centrist to be chosen for a key position in the Obama administration. The foreign policy team the president-elect is assembling breaks the hearts of left-wing moonbats, but is reassuring to those (like me) who feared President Obama would be hopelessly naive about national security policy.

Sen. Hillary Clinton has accepted an offer to be secretary of state, The New York Times has reported. Though she's no centrist, and her foreign policy credentials exist mostly in her imagination, Sen. Clinton is bright and tough. The president-elect may keep on as secretary of defense the highly regarded Robert Gates.

Marc Ambinder of The Atlantic magazine reported last week that Mr. Obama planned to choose counterterrorism expert Robert O. Brennan as director of the Central Intelligence Agency. Before he joined the Obama campaign as an adviser on intelligence matters, Mr. Brennan was a Republican. Mr. Brennan withdrew his name from consideration after receiving criticism from left-wing groups but will play a role in selecting the new CIA chief.

ABC News has reported that the president-elect plans to choose retired Adm. Dennis Blair, former commander of Pacific Command, as director of national intelligence. ABC's Jake Tapper also reported that Mr. Obama would like to name retired Marine Gen. James Jones as his national security adviser.

The other nominations are not choices I would make if I were czar. But they are about the best that could be expected from a Democratic president. For instance, Hillary Clinton looks good to me as secretary of state chiefly because the other candidates most frequently mentioned were Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts and New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson.

Gen. Jones is different. I first met him when he was a major. He went on to become commandant of the Marine Corps and then the first Marine ever to be chosen as commander of NATO. I've never known a smarter, nicer, more honest or more patriotic guy. I can't think of anybody who would be a better national security adviser.

When you throw in Rahm Emanuel as the White House chief of staff and Eric Holder as attorney general-designate, the new Obama administration looks a lot like the old Clinton administration.

This is disappointing to those on the left who were hoping for more change. But when you're president -- especially one as inexperienced as Barack Obama is -- you want experienced people in key positions. And about the only place Democrats could get that experience was in the Clinton administration.

Besides, on whom from his days in Chicago should Mr. Obama rely for advice? The Rev. Jeremiah Wright? Bill Ayers? Tony Rezko?

For both his foreign policy and economic teams, Mr. Obama has chosen quality people who differ in significant ways with positions he took during the Democratic primaries. That he has chosen these people despite these differences indicates either that the president-elect is more broad-minded than I, among others, had imagined, or that he never was all that attached to the policy positions he took in order to win the nomination.

Whatever his reasons, with both his Cabinet appointments and his decision to go slow on tax increases, Mr. Obama has signaled he intends to govern more from the center than the left. For this he deserves applause, and cautious support.


Jack Kelly is a columnist for the Post-Gazette ( jkelly@post-gazette.com , 412 263-1476).


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