Barack Obama is all about bipartisanship, conciliation, binding up wounds, and so forth. Great! If only more presidents saw things that way.
But in his
(reported) choice of Eric Shinseki as Secretary of Veterans Affairs, there is also an extremely refined aspect of sticking in the shiv.
Whenever he talks about this selection, Obama (plus his lieutenants) can describe it completely, sufficiently, and strictly in the most bipartisan high-road terms. They have selected a wounded combat veteran; a proven military leader and manager; a model of personal dignity and nonpartisan probity: an unimpeachable choice. Symbolic elements? If people want them, they can work with Shinseki's status as (to my recollection at the moment) the first Asian-American in a military-related cabinet position, not to mention a Japanese-American honored for lifelong military service on Pearl Harbor Day.
As for the other symbolic element -- that Obama is elevating the man who was right, when Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, Cheney, et al were so catastrophically wrong -- that is something that neither Obama nor anyone around him need say out loud, ever. The nomination is like a hyper-precision missile, or what is known in politics as a "dog whistle." The people for whom this is a complete slap in the face don't need to be told that. They know -- and know that others know it too. So do the people for whom it is vindication. And all without Obama descending for one second from his bring-us-together higher plane.
The artistry here is remarkable. Along with the inspired nature of this choice.
UPDATE: I see from the MTP webcast just now available (below) that Tom Brokaw directly asked Obama about Shinseki's disagreement with Rumsfeld, and Obama said of his new nominee, "he was right." Consistent with the argument above, that's as much as he ever needs to say.
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