By Daniel Politi, Slate Magazine
The Los Angeles Times, New York Times, Washington Post, USA Today, and Wall Street Journal all lead with President-elect Barack Obama moving full-speed ahead in putting together his White House team. After Tuesday’s sweeping victory—349 electoral votes to John McCain’s 162, with two states still too close to call—Obama woke up at home in Chicago, had breakfast with his family, and spent most of the day behind closed doors having discussions with Vice President-elect Joe Biden, campaign advisers, and the leaders of his transition team. To no one’s surprise, he offered the key job of White House chief of staff to Rep. Rahm Emanuel of Illinois.
Yesterday was a day of jubilation for many, not just in the country but also around the world. There was perhaps no other country outside the United States that celebrated as much as Kenya, where the prime minister declared Thursday a national holiday. Even Republican leaders rushed to recognize the historic moment. “As an African-American, I am especially proud. … [Y]esterday was obviously an extraordinary step forward,” Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said in a surprise appearance at her department’s daily briefing. President Bush called Obama’s election “uplifting” and vowed that he would do everything possible to make it a smooth transition. “It will be a stirring sight to watch President Obama, his wife, Michelle, and their beautiful girls step through the doors of the White House,” Bush said. “I know millions of Americans will be overcome with pride at this inspiring moment that so many have awaited so long.”
Emanuel has not said whether he’ll take the job as Obama’s right-hand man, although the NYT says many Democrats think he’ll accept. The 48-year-old veteran of the Clinton administration would wield great power in the position, but he has also risen quickly in the House since he first joined its ranks six years ago, and it’s hardly a secret that he aspires to become speaker. The announcement raised some eyebrows among Republicans, who were quick to say that the Emanuel pick is evidence that Obama’s promise of change was all for show. Emanuel is known as one of the most combative, hard-hitting operatives in Washington and is often praised for his political skills. The WSJ says Emanuel and Obama “would be a study in contrasts,” but that appears to be the point, since it would allow the president to act as a mediator while his chief of staff keeps everyone in line. “They feel Obama comes off as the nice guy and he would come off as the tough guy,” a congressional source tells the WSJ.
The NYT notes that in seeking out Emanuel and John Podesta, who is one of the leaders of the transition team, Obama has turned to two members of the Clinton administration who are known for their “no-holds-barred approach to politics.” This suggests that “the cool and conciliatory new president is determined to demonstrate toughness from the beginning,” says the NYT.
After hiring a chief of staff, everyone says Obama would move to make a number of important economic appointments, with a particular focus on who should take on the critical role of Treasury secretary. Two names that everyone mentions as possibilities are Lawrence Summers, who held the post in the Clinton administration, and Timothy Geithner, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. Other names being floated around include former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker and former Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin.
While Washington insiders and pundits are focused on trying to figure out who would join the administration, the NYT reminds readers to take all this talk with a large grain of salt since it involves plenty of guesswork. So far, Obama’s transition staff is filled with veterans from the Clinton years, which underscores “one of Obama’s dilemmas,” as the LAT puts it, because he promised change but also obviously wants people familiar with the inner workings of the White House. Obama is apparently determined to have a bipartisan cabinet and might consider appointing a Republican to run the State Department.
Meanwhile, Obama must decide how much to get involved in the most important issue of the day, particularly considering that Bush will host a global economic summit on Nov. 15. Aides say Obama might meet with some foreign leaders then but will take great pains to emphasize that Bush is still the president and that he is determined to avoid stepping on anyone’s toes during the 77-day transition.
There is still no final number on Tuesday’s turnout, but estimates say it was the highest rate in 44 years. According to one estimate, around 133.3 million, or about 62.6 percent of the electorate, cast a ballot this year. In 1964, 62.8 percent of the electorate participated in the election that Democrat Lyndon Johnson won in a landslide.
Although Obama will focus much of his attention in the coming weeks on the economy, he also got a stark reminder of the many challenges that lie ahead in foreign policy. The Post devotes a separate front-page piece to the move that almost seemed designed to welcome Obama into the fold as Russian President Dmitri Medvedev vowed that he would place short-range missiles in the country’s Western border if the new administration insists on continuing plans to build a missile defense shield in Europe. The missiles would be capable of hitting NATO territory, and Medvedev also said Russia would use “radioelectric equipment” to jam the defense system.
As for Congress, Democrats still don’t know the full extent of their majorities. Three Senate races remain too close to call, and a runoff has been scheduled in Georgia. In the House, Democrats picked up 19 seats, and at least six are still up in the air. Democratic leaders vowed to pursue a bold agenda even as they recognize a delicate balancing act will be required to accommodate the interests of the more conservative lawmakers who are from areas of the country that had previously been Republican strongholds. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi will be meeting with leaders of Detroit’s Big Three today to discuss an economic relief package. The WSJ says Democrats are considering doubling the amount of money they’ll make available to the automakers as low-cost loans to $50 billion.
Many who were celebrating an Obama victory yesterday suddenly felt the moment wasn’t as sweet as it could have been when they checked the news and discovered that California’s Proposition 8 was approved. The LAT devotes a front-page piece to the measure, which will write a prohibition of same-sex marriages into California’s Constitution, and says its proponents managed to win backers by running an effective campaign that warned that children would be taught about gay marriage in schools. The surge in black voters played a significant role in this outcome as they made up 10 percent of the voters and sided with the measure by margins of more than 2-to-1. Latino voters also favored the measure by a small margin. Three lawsuits have been filed asking the California Supreme Court to overturn the measure. The NYT fronts a piece looking at how voters in Florida and Arizona also approved measures prohibiting marriage between two people of the same sex.
In the LAT‘s op-ed page, John Corvino writes that no one should see Proposition 8 as more than a temporary delay in the advancement of gay rights. “The path to inclusion is not always direct and the pace of change almost never steady,” writes Corvino. “This setback is by no means a final verdict.”
After years of decline, print was suddenly hot again yesterday. People actually lined up outside newspaper offices trying to get their hands on the day’s historic edition. Papers across the country increased their press runs but could barely keep up with demand. And, of course, some entrepreneurs made a pretty penny. Some paid more than $100 for a copy of the paper, and there are those who are trying to sell yesterday’s edition for $500.