Friday, January 7, 2011


Is Obama missing his chance to be kingmaker? As his closest advisors (Axelrod, Jarrett, Gibbs) are leaving the White House to go back to the business of getting Barack Obama reelected, the president chooses to dip once again into the Democratic reserves rather than risking to elevate new stars, or better yet to create them.

Appointing Daley and Sperling is in some ways beyond reproach and fits Obama's well-established habit of calling scores of Clintonites back to Washington. It is expedient and pragmatic to reappoint veterans of previous administrations with their deep and well-honed expertise, knowledge, personal and professional networks, and ability to govern. And for Obama, it is an efficient way to bring back a Democratic Establishment that heavily supported Hillary Clinton during the presidential campaign.

But when the Obama administration comes to a close, what will be left besides traces of the Clinton administration?

The president has an extraordinary opportunity to both highlight ambitious new talents and to exploit their dynamism, competence and hunger. By recognizing the depth of new (but not necessarily young) Democratic personalities and thinkers, Obama has the power to infuse Washington with a crop of leaders shaped around his own values and approach to governing.

The President can choose to reach across generations and seize the changing American demography
to create a current lasting far beyond the duration of his presidency. So far, he seems uninterested in this possibility.

There are examples of new talent already in DC, namely Secretaries Kathleen Sibelius and Janet Napolitano. But these two women, with meteoric rises of their own and considerable homestate popularity, remain largely silent and beyond the public's cognizance. Their star power and dynamism are mostly unseen but for the all-too-rare occasions when they are press visible. One cannot help but believe that President Obama is missing an extraordinary chance to sufficiently elevate these two rising stars to be poised for greatness tomorrow.

A continued lack of creativity and initiative at finding and elevating new leaders carries less risk now but is ultimately a constraint to the president's long-term position. And as long as the president is satisfied to rely only on the past experience of his veteran appointees and the competence of his few newcomers without granting them sufficient autonomy, he prevents the emergence of a giant - his Scowcroft or Kissinger.

It is time for the President to cultivate a new generation of leaders modeled on Obama himself, to better emphasize the new talent already in his ranks, and to allow for the emergence of a new star - a heavyweight whose presence transcends the administration itself.

- Amy Greene