Competence is a virtue

COMPETENCE IS A VIRTUE…. For all of the discussion and speculation about Barack Obama’s post-election team, we’re effectively dealing with four names: Rahm Emanuel (the next WH chief of staff), John Podesta (heading the transition), Robert Gibbs (the next WH press secretary), and David Axelrod (soon to be a senior advisor to the president).

There have been some concerns about two of the four — Emanuel and Podesta — coming from the Clinton team, with the suggestion being that Obama’s reliance on former Clinton aides undermines the notion of “change.”

My friend Bill Simmon argued the other day, persuasively, that any president-elect, regardless of circumstances, is going to want a transition leader and WH chief of staff who’ve spent plenty of time in the West Wing. Change, schmange — Obama is assembling a team that will help him a) hit the ground running; and b) get stuff done.

With that in mind, Marc Ambinder noted that the reviews of Obama’s transition efforts thus far are very positive.

Democrats who survived the transition from George H.W. Bush to William Jefferson Clinton are a bit in awe these days of what Barack Obama is doing and how he is doing it.

Of the Clinton transition, one very senior and longtime Clinton adviser said: “No one would have imagined how quickly it all got screwed up.”

In 1992, the only Democrats who had run the White House in the past quarter century had worked for Jimmy Carter — and Carter’s tenure didn’t exactly inspire confidence. Clinton had James Carville — the most brilliant Democratic strategist at the time, and he had a lot of young guns. But he did not have a John Podesta to walk him through what it took to ran the White House, and certainly not a Rahm Emanuel.

Ambinder noted that Clinton’s team emphasized cabinet picks over White House staff, which they later realized was a mistake. Clinton’s team also neglected to establish connections during the transition with senators, another problem Barack Obama and Joe Biden won’t have, given their recent day jobs.

And as for the soon-to-be COS, Ambinder concluded, “Rahm knows the White House. He knows how to make the White House work.”

There are obviously all kinds of decisions left to be made, and plenty of opportunities for mistakes. But at this point, that Obama’s team is drawing plaudits for the week-old operation is probably a good sign.