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Obama: ‘We Want Ideas From Everybody,’ Including Clintonistas

In more explicit terms than he had previously, President-elect Barack Obama today laid out the philosophy behind his cabinet selections and addressed the concerns of critics who are wary of the large number of former Clintonites in an administration promising change.

During his third press conference of the week, as expected, Obama announced the creation of a new President’s Economic Recovery Advisory Board to be headed by former Federal Reserve chairman Paul Volcker and including Austan Goolsbee, who also advised Obama’s presidential campaign.

Obama said the board would be “modeled on the President’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board created by President Eisenhower to provide rigorous analysis and vigorous oversight of our intelligence community by individuals outside of government – individuals who would be candid and unsparing in their assessment. This new board will perform a similar function for my Administration as we formulate our economic policy.”

During a question and answer session with reporters, Obama said his job as president is to articulate a vision of change, and “to make sure then that my team is implementing” it.

On the presence of many former Clinton aides on his team, Obama said he was interested in assembling a team that would best be able to work the levers of government from day one:

The last Democratic administration that we had was the Clinton administration. It would be surprising if I selected a treasury secretary who had had no connection with the last Democratic administration, because that would mean the person had no experience in Washington whatsoever. I suspect that you would be troubled, and the American people would be troubled, if I selected a treasury secretary or a chairman of the national economic council, at one of the most critical economic times in our history, who had no experience in government whatsoever. What we are going to do is combine experience with fresh thinking [...]

I think that when you ultimately look at what this advisory board looks like, you’ll say this is a cross-section of opinion that in some ways reinforces conventional wisdom, in some ways breaks with orthodoxy in all sorts of ways. That’s the kind of discussion we’re going to want. We want ideas from everybody.

What I don’t want to do is to somehow suggest that because you served in the last Democratic administration, that you’re somehow barred from serving again, because we need people who are going to be able to hit the ground running.

Obama’s sentiments were largely in line with those of his defenders who argue that experienced Washington hands are necessary to implement any agenda, even one promising sweeping changes. The real measure of the success of the strategy, of course, will be how effectively Obama’s team delivers the new president’s vision.

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