Julian Zelizer: Why Obama's picks will make Bill Clinton smile

Roundup: Historians' Take

[Julian E. Zelizer is a professor of history and public affairs at Princeton University's Woodrow Wilson School. He is the co-editor of "Rightward Bound: Making America Conservative in the 1970s" and is completing a book on the history of national-security politics since World War II, to be published by Basic Books.]

Many observers use historian Doris Kearns Goodwin's term, "A Team of Rivals," to describe the cabinet that President-elect Barack Obama is assembling.

They use the term to characterize choices like former Obama opponent Sen. Hillary Clinton -- expected to be nominated Monday as Secretary of State -- and current secretary of defense Robert Gates who is being asked to stay on by Obama.

But a more useful term might be a team of centrists. The most striking characteristic of the current lineup is how the personalities reflect the centrist vision of the Democratic Party promoted by Bill Clinton and his colleagues at the Democratic Leadership Council in the 1990s.

Obama has called on experts who aggressively promoted globalization and deregulation on economic matters, pushed for welfare reform, and accepted the necessity of military force and a strong defense. There are exceptions, but overall thus far, it appears Obama will be advised from the center.

Some of Obama's core supporters are surprised and upset with his choices while others say his choices are a logical reaction to the crises facing his administration.

A close look at Obama's development since 2004 suggests centrism should have been expected. There is little evidence beyond his history as a community organizer to indicate Obama is left of center.

That's part of the irony of the attacks made by Sen. John McCain and Gov. Sarah Palin against Obama for his association with 1960s radicals and statements about progressive taxation.

When Obama was introduced to the national scene at the 2004 Democratic Convention, his keynote speech focused on the need to overcome political polarization and long-standing divisions. In the most famous part of the speech, Obama said, "there's not a liberal America and a conservative America -- there's the United States of America."

This is far from the rallying cries of Sen. Ted Kennedy who has enthusiastically defended the liberal tradition of his party.

During his presidential campaign in 2008, Obama's policy proposals were not at all radical. Indeed many of his key positions looked much more like those of Bill Clinton than Franklin Roosevelt or Lyndon Johnson....
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