Obama: Change 'comes from me,' not his appointees

McClatchy NewspapersNovember 26, 2008 

WASHINGTON — President-elect Barack Obama essentially said Wednesday that he is the change, striving to assure Americans that he'll shake up Washington despite filling his administration with old hands from the Clinton administration and the capital's corridors of power.

"Understand where the vision for change comes from, first and foremost," Obama said. "It comes from me. That's my job, is to provide a vision in terms of where we are going, and to make sure, then, that my team is implementing."

Obama made the remarks as he tapped another old Washington hand — this one former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker, as a top economic adviser — and prepared to name his former rival, Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., as secretary of state next week.

As a presidential candidate, Obama's central theme was that he'd change the way politics and the government work, and suggested that it'd take a fresh, outsider approach to do that. "Change doesn't come from Washington," he said. "Change comes to Washington."

Yet he's raised questions about how much he can deliver on that promise given the long list of beltway insiders he's named, or signaled that he will name, to run his government.

Among them:

  • Former Clinton White House adviser Rahm Emanuel as White House chief of staff.
  • Former Clinton Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers as chairman of the National Economic Council.
  • Former Clinton lawyer Greg Craig as White House counsel.
  • Former Treasury Department official and current New York Federal Reserve Bank Chairman Timothy Geithner as Treasury secretary.
  • Former Clinton Deputy Attorney General Eric Holder as attorney general.

Others may not have been in the Clinton administration but offer deep Washington experience. Volcker, for example, was Federal Reserve Chairman during the presidencies of Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan. Tom Daschle, Obama's apparent choice to head the Department of Health and Human Services, is a former Senate majority leader.

Obama noted that Volcker "hasn't been in Washington for quite some time. And that's part of the reason he can provide a fresh perspective."

Generally, however, the president-elect rejected the suggestion that he needs to be surrounded by outsiders to stir things up. Instead, he said, he'll set the tone and will need experienced hands to implement the changes.

"The last Democratic administration that we had was the Clinton administration. And so it would be surprising if I selected a Treasury secretary who had had no connection with the last Democratic administration. Because that would mean that the person had no experience in Washington whatsoever," he said.

"And 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."

He stressed that, "what we are going to do is combine experience with fresh thinking."

Looking ahead to the next big test of the economy, Obama said that he'd go shopping on Friday, but stopped short of urging the rest of the country to do the same. Retailers are nervous that customers will stay away from what traditionally is the busiest and most profitable shopping day of the year.

"We are going to do some Christmas shopping," he said. "And Malia and Sasha have already put their list together. It's mostly for Santa. They send their letter every year. But we may do some extra shopping as well."

Asked specifically, Obama declined to recommend that Americans spend some money on Friday, perhaps mindful of criticisms of President George W. Bush for urging shopping as an economic antidote to the shocks of the 2001 terrorist attacks.

"I think families understandably are nervous and concerned about their economic situation," he said. "What we want to do is to be sober, to be clear, to recognize that we've got some real adjustments that have to be made. That's true in individual businesses. It's true in terms of individual family budgets. It's also true for the economy as a whole."

He did urge confidence, noting that "help is on the way." And he cautioned against people pulling back too much.

"What we don't want to do is get caught up in a spiral where people pull back from the economy, businesses then pull back, jobs are reduced and we get into a downward spiral," he said.

"As they think about this Thanksgiving shopping weekend, and as they think about the Christmas season that is coming up, I hope that everybody understands that we are going to be able to get through these difficult times, but we're just going to have to make some good choices."

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McClatchy Newspapers 2008

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