President-elect Barack Obama is creating a cabinet of dynamic, capable individuals. His team is devoid of “yes people.” It’s bi-partisan. It’s populated by leaders with strong opinions and a proven willingness to declare them forcefully.
President George W. Bush surrounded himself with strong personalities, too: Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of State Colin Powell, and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld come to mind. President Bush was unable to prevent the fiefdoms these leaders created from undermining their potential. President-elect appears to have learned from his predecessor’s mistake in this regard. Consider his choice of National Security Advisor. Retired General James Jones arguably brings heft to the table equivalent to what incoming Vice President Joe Biden, incoming Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and continuing Secretary of Defense Robert Gates bring. More significantly, President-elect Obama’s style, termperment and talent is different from those of President Bush. He’s unlikely to tolerate the dysfunction that marked the Bush Administration.
The new Cabinet is not only being populated by individuals with proven track records, but it is shaping up to be diverse, as well. There’s only one group that seems underrepresented: there doesn’t appear to be anyone with a significant business background in the mix. Those already nominated, or on the short list of those expected to be nominated, all have impressive credentials. There are Generals, Senators, Members of Congress, and Governors. Some have led huge government bureaucracies and a major university. But I’m not aware of any that has ever started a company or met a payroll.
Considering the amount of rhetoric surrounding the need to listen to Main Street during the recent campaign, this is surprising. Certainly there are business leaders or entrepreneurs who have something to contribute when it comes to shaping the nation’s future. Running a state. seving in Congress and leading troops is noble and important work. The experience and perspective gained from these activities is important and significant.
Yet it’s a limited perspective. Running a business is different. The skills and abilities are different. So are the expectations and pressures involved. The lessons learned and wisdom gained is different, too.
This is not to say that only private-sector viewpoints matter. Far from it. But those views are important and they should be part of the mix when President Obama sits down to deal with the challenges this country faces. The Wall Street-Main Street dichotomy bandied about in the campaign was somewhat superficial, but not completely. That’s why serving on corporate boards isn’t enough. Bringing into his cabinet someone who has run a business would bring an additional and important perspective to the Cabinet’s deliberations as it faces a long and deep recession.
President-elect Obama is to be commended for building a diverse team. He would do well to increase the diversity just a bit more. The challenges he faces are complex and impact every American. Even those whose lives center around neither Wall Street nor Pennsylvania Avenue. Main Street is important. It deserves a seat at the table.