I tend to agree with today’s NRO editorial and Rich Lowry’s column to the effect that Obama’s national security picks are about as good as conservatives could expect from the president-elect. Unlike some other commentators, however (including some conservatives), I don’t think the sum of Obama’s picks thus far are an occasion for doing cartwheels over possible “centrist” policies.
Gates and Jones are reassuring choices, but a year ago conservatives would’ve been appalled at the prospect of a Secretary of State Clinton or an Attorney General Holder. Those two have not been rendered more palatable merely because the alternatives might be worse.
Moreover, while each of the picks will have varying degrees of influence in their respective spheres, they will not be the ultimate arbiters of policy in those areas. They are not free agents (even Sen. Clinton). All will be members of the executive branch. All will be working for the Obama administration. Perhaps a Gates or a Jones will guide Obama in a “centrist” direction, perhaps not.
The picks that conservatives should be concerned about are those that will function independently of the administration, i.e., the judicial selections. Over the next 4–8 years Obama will nominate scores of individuals to the federal district and circuit courts. He could have four, possibly even five Supreme Court picks. Unlike the executive branch picks who will be gone in a few years, the judicial selections will have lifetime tenure. The judiciary could tilt leftward for a generation. And, as we have seen in recent years, they have the capacity to dramatically affect whatever purportedly centrist policies may issue as a result of the influence of Gates, Jones, Summers, et al. on Obama.
John Bolton got it right. It’s too early to judge where the new administration is headed. But simply because the picks haven’t been as bad as they could be doesn’t mean we won’t be lurching leftward.