EDITORIAL: Focus on policy

The process of governing has begun for President-elect Barack Obama, as the economic crisis deepens and a bloody attack in Mumbai, India, puts terrorism on top of our headlines.

Given these enormous twin challenges, it is not surprising that he has put a priority on naming his top economic and foreign policy/national security appointees. These have been the focus of much commentary and spin. Those on the left who expected Obama would name left figures to top positions have been disappointed. Some are ready to write off his presidency before it has even begun. But such expectations were sorely misguided to begin with.

Obama was elected with a strong mandate to turn away from the Bush administration’s far-right policies. But to consolidate his victory and move ahead, his administration must build a strong record of accomplishments, working with a Congress in which Republicans, though weakened, continue to exercise considerable leverage, and responding to concerns of the 46 percent who did not vote for him. This requires considerable tactical skill and thoughtfulness. It’s entirely logical and sensible that Obama would pick figures from the broad political center for Cabinet seats requiring Senate confirmation and other prominent positions.

“It’s not the personnel, it’s the policy,” observed Robert Borosage, co-director of the Campaign for America’s Future, speaking about the economic crisis. “And on this, Obama has been clear. He’s announced a massive recovery plan based on putting people to work with public investment in areas vital to our future.

“Obama is choosing experienced hands for the crisis, trusting that their experience does not impede the new thinking needed to get us out of this hole. He’ll set the direction. And so far, he’s on course.”

Robert Gard Jr., a retired Army lieutenant general who heads the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation, and former Rep. Tom Andrews, director of Win Without War, wrote at Huffington Post, “Those of us eagerly awaiting relief from the debacle called the Bush administration should avoid getting swept up the in DC parlor game of who is getting what position in the new administration and focus instead on the fundamental changes we need the Obama administration to start making. In short, ‘It’s the Policy, Stupid!’”

As Obama himself has emphasized, the grassroots base that elected him will make the difference in what can be accomplished.