Saturday, November 22, 2008

Obama's Team of Rivals - Repeating a Mistake

I have grown very tired of hearing everyone refer to Obama’s Team of Rivals. Ignoring for a moment what a complete whitewash of Lincoln, Doris Kearns Goodwin’s book really is, let us not forget one very important fact. A fact that President-Elect Obama seems to have forgotten as well. And sadly it is mostly overlooked in Goodwin’s book as well. Lincoln’s Team of Rivals did not work.

Lincoln is praised for putting his major rivals into one team after he won the Presidency. This included William Seward, Samuel Chase, Simon Cameron, and Edward Bates. There were others on the cabinet, but these were the ones who had contested the election of 1860 and made it a team of rivals. Although it should be noted that Bates was too old to be a political threat, too moderate to cause damage in the Republican ranks, and was an average Attorney General at best. Chase and Cameron were complete disasters. Cameron had to resign after only a year because he was incompetent. He was made the Secretary of War (Defense) and he was awful. So bad that his political career was effectively over. His own party despised him after this. Incompetent is not strong enough of a word. It was not until Edwin Stanton took over the post that the War Department was brought into shape. Stanton was not a rival, and would be considered a normal cabinet pick. Samuel Chase was the Treasury Secretary. Now, it is true that he did his job well. The Treasury Department was not corrupt and he was not incompetent. However, he never ceased being a rival to Lincoln. He tried to use his position to gather forces for a run at the Presidency in 1864. He occasionally undercut Lincoln and often second guessed him. He was made Chief Justice of the United States by Lincoln to rid the party of him and remove him from the cabinet. That is how big a trouble maker Chase had become. Seward as Secretary of State is the only one who turned out. Seward was loyal and had great success after Johnson became President. Seward was attacked the same night Lincoln was shot and much of face was ripped off by the assassin. So, in that manner Seward was great. However, it can hardly be taken as the rule. Seward never made up with Horace Greeley who continued to hound the President and even ran against the Republican Party when Grant was President. Greeley was bitter at how Seward never gave his paper work as Secretary or as Governor of New York. So, while Seward never did anything to undercut Lincoln he did help make trouble for the administration overall.

No matter how this idea came to be planted in Obama’s head, it is a bad one. Maybe people should read the book that Goodwin wrote before following the example of Lincoln.