President-elect Barrack Obama wasted no time in asserting his leadership as he began the transition from candidate to president, naming Chicago Congressman and Clinton White House veteran Rahm Emanuel as his chief-of-staff and convening an "economic summit." That was all very much in keeping with a political operation that is a well-oiled machine.
Some, no doubt, will - indeed, already have - read much into these first two moves. Clinton, too, had an "economic summit," after which he declared a newly discovered inability to deliver "middle class" tax relief and a need to raise taxes on "the rich," millions of whom soon were surprised to learn they could be so flush on lunch-bucket paychecks. We hope this isn't deja vu all over again.
If Obama holds to style, then in the coming weeks a series of high-profile staffing choices will be made. Conventional wisdom holds that economic and national security picks could come fairly quickly to enable a smooth transition in those areas most critical to the nation. We hope the conventional wisdom is right.
People, goes an old Washington dictum, are policy. Obama's picks will send strong signals as to whether he will depart from his left-wing past and move toward the historical governing center of the nation, or not.
The president-elect is entitled to pick his own people. Republicans, now in the role of loyal opposition, no doubt will critique appointments - and they should sound warnings of policy signals given by choices of people. But they should not attempt, barring nomination of, say a felon or gross incompetent, attempt to interfere with President-elect Obama's choices during the vetting and confirmation processes.
There will be ample opportunity for vigorous policy debate. But make no mistake: Come Jan. 20, a President Obama will take office with vast political and institutional power to impose his will upon national policy. His decisions on key staff and Cabinet positions will provide something of a preview of the policies upon which he is settling.