Dominating the News

In the weeks since election day, there has been a great deal of discussion within the establishment media about the growing number of leaks out of the Obama transition. The press, it seems, can't seem to fathom why those surrounding the President-elect, who had been so reticent for nearly two years, have begun to talk in a seemingly uncoordinated or unapproved manner.

Yet one thing that is too often overlooked by many fascinated by the leaks from the Obama world is the extent to which Obama now dominates the news -- even more than one might expect from a President-elect. Every single day -- every day -- there's a new story out of the transition that owns the day's political news coverage. Today, it's the creation of a new board of economic advisors including Paul Volcker and Austan Gooslbee. Yesterday it was Obama's news conference. The day before it was the announcement of Obama's Treasury Secretary. It goes on.

It's certainly true that any incoming President will garner a significant amount of news coverage. Yet this transition feels different. Not only is Obama dominating the news, he is doing it on his own terms. Some news comes through official channels on the record, some news comes on background, and some leaks out, but by and large, with the exception of the emphasis on the mode of dissemination in the case of leaks, the coverage is positive and, importantly, portrays Obama as strong and decisive. Even before he is sworn in, Obama looks on the ball. And in that regard there's little reason to complain.

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A Push for Middle East Peace?

Tomorrow's Wall Street Journal has an interesting article on the relationship between Barack Obama and Brent Scowcroft, the foreign policy realist who served as National Security Advisor under both Presidents Gerald Ford and George H. W. Bush. Of particular note, at least from this vantage, are Scowcroft's views on the role of a Middle East peace process in helping foster stability throughout the region.

Many of the Republicans emerging as potential members of the Obama administration have professional and ideological ties to Brent Scowcroft, a former national-security adviser turned public critic of the Bush White House.

Mr. Scowcroft spoke by phone with President-elect Barack Obama last week, the latest in a months-long series of conversations between the two men about defense and foreign-policy issues, according to people familiar with the discussions.

The relationship between the president-elect and the Republican heavyweight suggests that Mr. Scowcroft's views, which place a premium on an Israeli-Palestinian peace accord, might hold sway in the Obama White House.

[...]

Mr. Scowcroft said his biggest piece of advice for the new administration was that it should make a renewed push to help broker an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal. He also endorsed Mr. Obama's call for diplomatic engagement with Iran.

Renewed attention towards a possible Israeli-Palestinian peace deal from the administration would come as a welcome development following eight years of disengagement from the Bush White House. A professor of mine once likened America's role in the peace process to a bicycle rider -- if the rider gets off, the bike doesn't continue to ride itself. So while there may be some potentially positive omens out of Israel, particularly the suggestion that Israeli leadership might consider the peace proposal forwarded by Saudi Arabia, without America on board helping to move the process forward, it's difficult to see much of any headway being made.

It's in light of this that the selection of Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State is so enticing. While there is a sense that Clinton is more hawkish than Barack Obama, that she is to the right of him on some foreign policy issues, I agree with Jerome that the differences during the primaries were overstated by both sides to make electoral cases. More to the point, though, the Israel-Palestine situation is one in which Clinton, like her husband, could try to stake her legacy. Indeed, if she were able to move the process significantly forward, thus improving not only the situation in the immediate area but also throughout the region, not only would she be able to cement her own place in history she would also be able to fulfill the effort upon which her husband hoped to stake his term in office.

To be clear, I'm not blind to the difficulty going forward, and the very real prospect that Bibi Netanyahu, rather than Tzipi Livni (or Ehud Barak, for that matter), becomes the next Prime Minister of Israel in the spring makes the path to peace that much more arduous. That said, there remains a glimmer of hope that cannot be overlooked, and the role an active U.S. administration could play in making peace a reality should not be underestimated.

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AP: Bill Richardson for Commerce Secretary

What position do you give the man who has already served as Congressman, Ambassador to the United Nations, Secretary of Energy, and Governor? Apparently Secretary of Commerce.

President-elect Barack Obama has chosen New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson to be commerce secretary, adding a prominent Hispanic and one-time Democratic rival to his expanding Cabinet.

Obama planned to announce the nomination after Thanksgiving, according to a Democratic official familiar with the discussions. The official was not authorized to speak publicly about the negotiations and did so on condition of anonymity.

I have been getting the same questions over and over in recent days: What exactly does the Secretary of Commerce do? The definition from Wikipedia -- that the department it runs is "concerned with business and industry" -- doesn't do much to clear up the question. Here's a better answer from the AP:

The department promotes American business in America and abroad. It also issues patents and trademarks and protects intellectual property.

According to their own website, the current secretary, Carlos Gutierrez, has about 38,000 workers and an almost $7 billion budget.

The Commerce Department also crafts telecommunication and technology policy.

I don't know too much about Richardson's stances and experience vis a vis the promotion of American business and technology, but considering the economic growth in New Mexico during his time as the state's Governor -- particularly the growth in the fields of tourism and entertainment -- as well as his background in working with the bureaucracy (in both the state level and the federal level), this comes off as a solid pick.

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AP: Obama Tapping Clinton for State

Here's the report:

President-elect Barack Obama is on track to nominate Hillary Rodham Clinton as secretary of state after Thanksgiving, an aide to his transition said Thursday.

One week after the former primary rivals met secretly to discuss the idea of Clinton becoming the nation's top diplomat, the two sides were moving quickly toward making it a reality, barring any unforeseen problems.

The transition aide told The Associated Press that the two camps have worked out financial disclosure issues involving Clinton's husband, former President Bill Clinton, and the complicated international funding of his foundation that operates in 27 countries. The aide said Obama and Hillary Clinton have had substantive conversations about the secretary of state job.

Clinton has been mulling the post for several days, but the transition aide's comments suggested that Obama's team does not feel she is inclined to turn it down.

I have already written out my thoughts already on Hillary Clinton at Foggy Bottom -- namely that her selection would indicate a determination by Barack Obama to place policy over process, putting together the strongest possible cabinet regardless of the prattling of the on-air punditry -- but what do you think?

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The Secretary and the Czar: Obama Bets Big on Daschle for Healthcare

By Lindsay Beyerstein, MediaWire blogger

It's official, former Sen. Tom Daschle will be Barack Obama's Secretary of Health and Human Services. Daschle will also serve as Health Czar, which means he will be in charge of developing Obama's healthcare program in addition to running HHS.

Ezra Klein writes in the Prospect: "This is huge news, and the clearest evidence yet that Obama means to pursue comprehensive health reform. You don't tap the former Senate Majority Leader to run your health care bureaucracy. That's not his skill set. You tap him to get your health care plan through Congress."

Ezra argues that Obama has learned the lessons of Hillary Clinton's unsuccessful attempt to reform healthcare in 1994. Ezra's view, the Clinton plan failed because its architects were so focused on crafting the perfect policy that they neglected to figure out how they were going to sell their plan politically.

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