Obama takes a break after Cabinet plaudits

President-elect Barack Obama was set to round out his Cabinet picks on Friday after moving with his promised “deliberate haste” to get the faces in place to confront a dizzying array of menaces.

After leaving on Saturday for a Christmas break in Hawaii, the Democrat will have a chance to reflect on what has been an unusually busy period for an incoming president since his November 4 election triumph.

And while these are still early days, Obama can bask in stellar poll readings—83% of respondents in a Marist survey on Wednesday approved of his performance so far.

“This was one of the more well-organised and well-prepared transitions that we have seen,” Princeton University historian Julian Zelizer said.

“Not only has he appointed some very high-quality picks in terms of intellectual capacity and experience, but on key areas—including economics and defence—he has been able to move to the centre without alienating his core supporters,” he said.

“It is a difficult balancing act. The most distinct aspect of this transition is how fast it is taking place.”

At his first post-election news conference on November 7, Obama vowed to confront the US economic crisis head-on but stressed he would not rush into making Cabinet appointments.

“I want to move with all deliberate haste, but I want to emphasise deliberate as well as haste,” he said.

By common consent, Obama has filled his Cabinet quickly but also with much thought to ability as he emulates the “team of rivals” assembled by his political hero, Civil War president Abraham Lincoln.

Led by former nominating rival Hillary Clinton at the State Department, the incoming Cabinet has respected technocrat Timothy Geithner at Treasury and two Republicans, including Robert Gates, who keeps his job at the Pentagon.

While Geithner gets the unenviable task of hauling the US economy out of recession, Gates must exit Iraq and redouble the fight in Afghanistan.

And Clinton has no lesser a task of remaking the nation’s frayed image abroad, while pursuing Middle East peace, rebuilding a tattered nuclear pact with North Korea and calming a fresh surge in India-Pakistan tensions.

With his other Cabinet picks over recent weeks, Obama has vowed to turn back global warming, guarantee every child a world-class education and institute universal healthcare—an ambitious list at the best of times.

Controversy has been limited, but over the past fortnight Obama has been dogged by questions over the extent of contacts between his staff, notably incoming chief of staff Rahm Emanuel, and the corruption-tainted governor of Illinois, Rod Blagojevich.

Yet even on that front, anti-Obama attacks from the Republican National Committee have been criticised by party elders such as John McCain, the defeated presidential contender, and former House leader Newt Gingrich.

And overall, Obama has won bipartisan praise since the election, including from some surprising quarters.

Karl Rove, President George Bush’s former political guru, has called the Cabinet choices “reassuring”. McCain said Obama’s national security team comprised people “the American people can trust.”

Obama is due to finish his family break on New Year’s Day.
While in Hawaii, he is expected to attend funeral services for his late grandmother, Madelyn Dunham, who died just hours before his election triumph.

He will also continue crafting his inaugural address, as Washington braces for millions of people keen to share in the moment when America’s first black president takes office at noon on January 20.—AFP

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