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Why a team of rivals?

  1. Dec 2, 2008 #1
    Obama claims to be following Lincoln, but I haven't heard much detail about who Lincoln appointed and how it worked to his advantage.

    It seems counter intuitive to me to keep your enemies close, unless you are plotting against them. In that sense wouldn't it work both ways? If you are in the number one spot, wouldn't you be better off having loyal people under you rather than ones that are against you and seek to undermine your policy?

    What are the pros and cons, in Obama's specific situation, of appointing a team of rivals?
     
    Last edited: Dec 2, 2008
  2. jcsd
  3. Dec 2, 2008 #2

    russ_watters

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    I'm not sure if the question is really relevant, since he hasn't appointed a team of rivals, but in any case, I don't think there would be any benefit for him:

    The main benefit would be bipartisanship, but he doesn't need that since he has a strong majority in Congress.

    The second-most important benefit would be the appearance of bipartisanship (for the purpose of re-election), but he doesn't need that, since he's entering office with the best political climate any new President could ever hope for and he won't need any help getting re-elected unless he's a complete disaster (in which case, he'd need more than a little bipartisanship could do for him).

    Other than that, I don't see any benefit. And I don't know where it came from, but you are right that the phrase "keep your enemies closer" is intended to imply the ability to spy on/plot against them.

    [edit] Oh, of course: Michael Coreleone
     
  4. Dec 3, 2008 #3
    I haven't been following too closely what Obama's appointees are, but they aren't "rivals" anymore, since they have different positions. The Secretary of State isn't suddenly going to usurp the President's office.

    As for appointing people who might disagree with him, it could be he actually wants what's right, and not what's the party line? Or at least make it look like that, to expand on russ's post.

    Yes, they could undermine policy. But wouldn't it be obvious who's the one who screwed up? How do you sabotage the President's policy from your own position and make it look like it's not your fault? Only Congress can do that, since they are Legion, for they are many.
     
  5. Dec 3, 2008 #4

    Ivan Seeking

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    Obama wants the best people and differing points of view. The message of his campaign was that we need to move beyond partisan politics and ideologies, and solve the enormous problems that we face today. He is doing exactly what he promised to do.

    There is a tremendous advantage in having strong, knowlegible people at his side, and not just yesmen.
     
  6. Dec 3, 2008 #5
    I think the basic idea is that to really get things done you want to have the complete opposite of "yes men" - you want people who are so competent and politically powerful in their own right that they'll give you a run for your money, may end up stealing the spotlight or fighting you.

    Whether or not Obama's genuinely doing it out of the same virtues Lincoln had, it's meant partially to convey and ensure that running a successful and competent administration is more important than Obama's own personal political interests. Like this story about Lincoln saying of General McClellan, "All I want out of General McClellan is a victory, and if to hold his horse will bring it, I will gladly hold his horse." (Though McClellan turned out to be a total dud for a general and an ungrateful one at that, he even ran against Lincoln for the presidency in 1864 as the Democratic candidate and lost embarrassingly - most of his own troops voted against him.)

    You have to take the whole idea with a grain of salt, though, because in Lincoln's time it was basically expected that everyone from the previous administration in any federal government job got kicked out and every position right down to the regional Postmasters got awarded to the new President's cronies or people who supported his campaign. So for Lincoln to show just about any consideration at all to his rivals was pretty unusual.
     
  7. Dec 3, 2008 #6
    Ok, but say that someone disagrees with you on a specific issue. The reason you disagree with them is because you think they are wrong. If you are trying to hire the best team, wouldn't you be better off choosing people who you think are right?

    Otherwise maybe you would choose someone because you have a hunch you may be wrong, and maybe they are right, and eventually you will figure it out? Kind of like picking stocks, you diversify them so that hopefully one will be right. In that case, you pick a variety of rivals, and that way your only opinions don't turn out to be bad leaving you with nothing else.

    But in order for that to work out right, you would need to trust that these people are honest to you. I suppose that having an opinion is different than having an agenda as people with agendas choose their spoken opinions to suite their agendas. When it comes to politics, most have agendas rather than honest opinions, in my opinion.
     
  8. Dec 3, 2008 #7

    mgb_phys

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    Isn't that one of the advantages of a president rather than a prime minister.
    The US president's cabinet can't easily replace him (getting rid of him only puts his appointed VP in the seat) - this is supposed to allow him (or her oneday) more freedom in appointing advisors. By comparison a prime minister knows that all everyone in their cabinet and party think about is trying to get their job.
     
  9. Dec 3, 2008 #8

    Office_Shredder

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    If someone spent their whole time in the Cabinet plotting to embarrass the president, they'd probably find themselves ostracized pretty quickly. The idea of a team of rivals isn't to literally get together a bunch of people who think you're wrong, it's to get together people who are willing to tell you when you're wrong. The president's the one who makes the final decision either way (someone could try to go in a different direction, but would just get sacked), and the theory is if you just get a team of people who agree with everything you say, then you'll have a team of people without any meaningful exchange of ideas. You know those commercials that you watch, and afterwards you think "Somebody PAID for that?!?" That's the kind of quality you get when one person makes a decision and everyone else just kind of follows it instead of asking if it's a good one.
     
  10. Dec 3, 2008 #9

    Gokul43201

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    Joe Biden, Hillary Clinton and Bill Richardson were his biggest rivals for the Democratic Party nomination (besides John Edwards, who took himself out of the picture). Those three are now in top Cabinet spots. That is the sense in which the phrase "team of rivals" was created for the Lincoln cabinet, in that he chose the top Republican contenders from the 1860 election to serve under him.
     
  11. Dec 3, 2008 #10
    to prevent a rerun of the BuSh2 yes men disaster
    saddly the neo-conned GOP calls the few members of their party
    who can actually think outside the herd, '' RINO'S''
    [REPUBLICANS IN NAME ONLY]

    we saw how well that works
    example Collen Powell quickly run out
    [just when they needed to change direction]
    we got stay the course instead
     
  12. Dec 3, 2008 #11

    russ_watters

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    Thinking about that more, it occurred to me that perpaps some of the motivation for keeping Gates in at SecDef is that he provides a good scapegoat should one be needed. Yes, I'm sure at least part of the reason for keeping him is that people think he's doing a good job, but if things start going badly over there (ie, if a too-quick pullout causes a resurgence of violence), it will be useful to have someone connected to the Bush administration as a reminder that Obama didn't start the war.
     
  13. Dec 3, 2008 #12

    russ_watters

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    You're right, but I think you may be looking at the question backwards: this is about Obama's motivation for the picks, not their motivations for accepting. Putting an "enemy" in his cabinet could be a good way to keep them in check.
     
  14. Dec 3, 2008 #13

    Ivan Seeking

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    Obama told his security council that he will listen most attentively when they disagree with him, not when they agree. Why? Because he can make the best decisions when he has the broadest range of inputs and choices. If everyone agrees, then there is only one choice. He wants people for their ability to do the job, and not their ability to reinforce what he already believes. However, it is their job to inform the President, and to give the best advice possible, but then to advance his agenda, not their own. They can kick and scream as much as they want [or are allowed], but in the end, Obama makes the decisions. Everyone else serves at the pleasure of the President. If they don't do their job, they get fired.

    These people are seen as experts in their respective roles. However, Bob Gates, for example, will speak strictly from his point of view as Sec of Defense. Hillary will speak as sec of State, Holder will speak as the attorney, etc. They each have the job of speaking to the specifics related to their areas of concern. Obama must weigh the input from all sources in order to make decisions. The final choices made will depend on not only the facts and recommendations made, but also his personal philosophies, his goals, and his vision of the future.
     
  15. Dec 3, 2008 #14

    russ_watters

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    You do see the critical difference between the two scenarios you just presented, right? In one, they are members of the same party, in the other they are not. It's a matter of "were" rivals vs "are" rivals and that is a huge difference.
     
  16. Dec 3, 2008 #15

    russ_watters

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    I think many people here are missing the point of the cabinet - the point of advisors. It isn't about agreeing or disagreeing, it is about area of expertise. Cabinet members exist to be exeperts on the subject of their post and their primary function is to educate the President on the issues that the President must then act on. Yeah, you do want an advisor who is not afraid to tell you you are full of crap, but if you are full of crap, that's a sign of a character flaw anyway: you formed an opinion based on insufficient facts and should have been listening instead of talking.
     
  17. Dec 3, 2008 #16

    Gokul43201

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    In which one were they not? I have no idea what you are talking about! As far as I'm aware, Lincoln only appointed Republicans (all of his Republican rivals in the 1860 Republican Convention) to his Cabinet, when he won the election.
     
  18. Dec 3, 2008 #17
    Does it seem a little striking to anyone else that people are implying who Obama's enemies are based on party affiliation? As if because a Republican is working for a Democrat that they will try to sabotage their own work or will have their work sabotaged by a Democrat just for the sake of 'party loyalty'

    Is this not being a little over dramatic and cynical or are things really that corrupt in American politics?
     
  19. Dec 3, 2008 #18

    Gokul43201

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    Many people here, and one President of the US.
     
  20. Dec 3, 2008 #19
    Uh, yeah, Russ, Lincoln was a Republican, not a Democrat. Members of the same party in both cases.
     
  21. Dec 3, 2008 #20

    Ivan Seeking

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    Who said "enemies"? [whoops, he did in the op. I think that is a bit strong. "Rivals" is better] Also, how many Democrats did Bush have in his cabinet?
     
    Last edited: Dec 3, 2008
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