How bold can you be in your first 100 days?
For those of us who admired how tight and disciplined the Obama campaign was for its duration, it is mystifying how lax the vetting appears to have been around Cabinet nominations. First Bill Richardson was forced to withdraw, allowing Republican Senator Judd Gregg (NH) to take the position at Commerce. They survived the tremors around new Treasury Secretary Geithner’s tax returns, but the same problem of suddenly-discovered tax liabilities has also cost Obama the choice of former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle at HHS. Now it seems that his nominee for Labor Secretary is facing questions about her husband’s business and its tax returns.
Given that the election was won three months ago, I cannot understand how vetting failed to catch these problems upfront. This is a state of affairs that I cannot imagine plagueing the next Prime Minister, and for one simple reason.
Should David Cameron succeed in ousting Gordon Brown at the next General Election, his Shadow Cabinet will automatically take the roles for which they are already preparing. The briefings with the Civil Service have already begun, and it is unlikely that Cameron’s first Cabinet (should he get the opportunity to form one) will be radically different to the Shadow Cabinet he has already assembled.
The presence of a permanent and non-partisan Civil Service allows us to condense what is a hundred-day process in the US into the couple of hours it takes to remove personal effects from Number 10, but it is the exposure of the Shadow Cabinet in the run up to an election that gives a broad mandate, and allows a new government to get to work immediately. The American system, for all its strengths (and in spite of its greater reliance on non-national government), doesn’t have the same benefit of immediate handover.
In spite of the early flurry of legislative activity, already Barack Obama’s presidency is running into the threat of partisan deadlock over measures like his stimulus package. Whilst the world toasted and applauded the arrival of Tony Blair to speak in honour of the new President, I couldn’t help but see the men as of the same mould – and to wonder whether the former Prime Minister would pass on advice from his own time. The expectations of the New Labour Government in 1997 were so high that they could never have been met – and Obama has sought to moderate expectations of his own term in office. But where the first Blair government disappointed its supporters first was not for being more centrist than desired, but for being too timid.
If the first hundred days are to set the tone of success for the remainder of a term, they need to be characterised by the boldest decisions in the manifesto. Allowing new personalities to derail the narrative seems foolish – I would recommend future US Presidential hopefuls consider identifying their top-level nominees prior to election, to allow for a full vetting process to occur. Without such distractions, or emergency changes of personnel, it will be interesting to see how bold our next PM is prepared to be in his initial months.