Method in his mess-ups

What look like blunders, in the case of Bill Richardson and Leon Panetta, might actually be shrewd moves of a chessmaster.
What look like blunders, in the case of Bill Richardson and Leon Panetta, might actually be shrewd moves of a chessmaster.
Is Team Obama starting to blunder? Let's take two examples and look under the surface indications of amateurishness.

First is the vetting of Bill Richardson, which, as this story in The Washington Post shows, was pretty cursory and plenty gullible. The vetters were looking under the wrong rock, how Richardson was doing as governor of New Mexico (not very well), rather than how that Grand Jury investigation was coming along (not to worry, said the governor). And not long afterward, the story went public and apparently Richardson was being asked to withdraw his candidacy for Commerce Secretary.

The vetting was uncharacteristically lax. Why? One theory is that there was a deal, when Richardson broke with the Clintons and supported Obama at a key moment, so no point in uncovering problems. Another theory is more Machiavellian. Team Obama wanted to offer Richardson a job, for political reasons, and then avoid the consequences of having to deal with a prima donna and one who wasn't all that interested in the beneath-him job of Commerce Secretary. Mission(s) accomplished.

Example two: appointing Leon Panetta to be head of the CIA. The first seeming blunder is angering two key Senators, Jay Rockefeller and Dianne Feinstein, by not checking with them. Di Fi duly exploded, saying she'd have to oppose the appointment, and then simmered down. Bad move? Or rather an illustration that in politics it's often easier to ask forgiveness than to ask permission?

As to the tougher question, whether Panetta is the right choice, it's pretty clear that he wasn't the first choice, but those first choices had too much taint of Bush and the Agency. So Panetta will have to build a team of those slightly tainted veterans. He's also another topsider drawn from Congress, as many are in the Obama cabinet. One veteran observer says that Obama is following an almost parliamentary model, building a government out of people who are in, or recently were in, Congress. Much smarter, says this observer, than the way other lightly experienced Presidents (notably Carter and Clinton) did it, bringing in a gang of small-state buddies.


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