Team of Rivals?


There is so much criticism of Obama’s choice of Hillary for Head of the State Department – and of others in his new team. Many believe he was influenced by Doris Kearn’s book about Lincoln’s cabinet, and very possibly he was. There is an argument to be made for keeping one’s rivals engaged and close to the decision making process. On the other hand, rivals can and often do fight to the death, or at least undermine their leader.

The key is strong and determined leadership — and that may be what Obama has confidence in being able to assert in bringing such powerful people into his cabinet.

There is another precedent and analysis that is relevant to this discussion: the role of Kennedy’s advisors in preparing for the disastrous Bay of Pigs invasion, and a few months later their response to the Cuban missile crisis. As analyzed by Irwin Janis, the Yale Sociologist, the team of advisors went way off course by virtue of “groupthink,” a process in which differences and debate were silenced and a consensus emerged without adequate testing. The next time around, as Soviet ships carrying missiles to Cuba approached, Kennedy encouraged vigorous debate in his team, a process that allowed him to think the problem through more thoroughly and arrive at an effective solution.

The team that Obama is putting together is very strong, a group of capable and independent thinkers – every bit as strong as the team Kennedy had around him over 45 years ago.  Obama appears to have confidence in his ability to tolerate conflict and dissent and to learn from it. Bush is notoriously conflict averse, no doubt a key reason he allowed Chaney essentially to take over his administration by operating behind the scenes and suppress dissent. Obama may see the benefits in the frank and full display of opinions as the run up to good decisions.

Maybe he wants a real team.