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When President-elect Barack Obama began naming his Cabinet members, we paid much respect to his practical, middle-of-the-road choices. The wisdom of his choices was proven by his ability to look at rivals, old guard veterans, and unpopular figures. After exchanging unpleasant words with Hillary Clinton through the primary, he named her Secretary of State. Arne Duncan, who helped to reform Chicago schools, is accused of being too middling, hardly choosing sides in any debate. But on the other side, Susan E. Rice is viewed as a stubborn up and comer. She will only accept opposing views once she has set her terms. 

The interesting common theme among Barack Obama’s Cabinet members is their love of basketball. Duncan played overseas for a year after college. Susan E. Rice was the point guard of her high school basketball team. Barack Obama has shown his skills in various clips taped on the campaign trail. He and Duncan played one-on-one on Election Night. It begs the question: Does Obama’s basketball savvy help him to make balanced decisions? 

Spot by spot, we’ll analyze his strategy. 

  • Susan Rice, Point Guard – The PG has to look at the whole court [the globe], and decide how to stake her claim against resistance. Rice’s unforgiving attitude is perfect for the player who begins with the ball. The United States has taken a strong moral stance in its foreign relations, sometimes for the worst. Rice must measure her tendency to grunt her way through disagreement, and find ways to give the ball up when it matters. She has to see the United Nations as teammates, not opponents.  
  • Hillary Clinton, Shooting Guard – Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant play shooting guard because they can score. They make the defense bend to their best efforts. Hillary Clinton can make key decisions, command the attention of her enemy, and then surprise all with the outcome. Not capturing the presidency was a loss, but the battle was won. She scored the Secretary of State seat and remained one of the most powerful people in the world. These tactical wins define her in her career. 
  • Barack Obama, Small Forward – Think of the small forward as the hinge on a door. The other players rotate around him as he maneuvers the center and sides of the court. Barack Obama is a small forward with dexterity, a killer jump shot, and the ability to finish difficult baskets in a crowd. He also knows how to move the ball around between his teammates, so that the whole gameplan revolves around unity of theme. He fits on any team because his individual talents make him a standout, but he’s never going to overlook open teammates. Barack Obama is like Grant Hill or Lebron James because he’s versatile, but still aggressive. 
  • Arne Duncan, Power Forward – The power forward makes the plays easier for everyone else when he organizes from his position. By grabbing rebounds and defending the basket area, he sets the standard for strong shots versus weak ones. Arne Duncan will have to make responsible choices for the school system to maintain its recovery in the urban centers of the U.S. He will also have to do the dirty work of relieving people who are failing their students to indefinite dismissal. Duncan’s personality is a bit soft for the position, but education is a frontier that will be at the top of the Obama agenda. 
  • Robert Gates, Center – Like the point guard, the center has to control the ball movement from the area near the basket. He also has to defend against attacks from the opposing team. Gates was one of the custodians of the Iraq War under President Bush. He demanded more troops when forces were stretched thin, and he advocated for more of the counter-insurgency work to be delegated on the outskirts of Baghdad, where many of the small brigades of rebels had caused carnage. Everything has to begin and end with the center on a good basketball team. If Obama wants to end the war as he said, “cautiously,” he will need to defer to Gates’s judgment, and Secretary Clinton’s recommendations. 

Bench Players: Eric Holder, Attorney General – Holder will have the fun job of restoring the Justice Department to form after the Patriot Act challenged many basic civil rights in order to pursue terrorists. Holder is a natural basketball player, with smooth moves to reach the goal. With the backing of the exec branch, he should have no problem repairing the damage done by crooked judges and an overzealous Dick Cheney and friends. Lisa Jackson is the Environmental Protection Agency chair and comes in with a specific mandate to reduce emissions, which is tricky because detractors claim her record in New Jersey was not one of reform. She’ll be pressed to come to the table with unique solutions for our ozone issues, and energy-saving vehicles.

The proposed team will not mesh all the time, with talent at every position vying for the number one label. Regardless of how egos will mesh, the player-coach we have as a President-elect will look to make the decisive shots in the clutch and overtime.

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