Turning back to Obama, some say that his desire to build his own “team of rivals” when he entered office was more appearance than substance. How do you think he did on that front? And as we look forward to a second term, what specific advice do you have for how he can build the right team of rivals in the next couple months?
Obviously the most important addition to his Cabinet, it turned out, was the chief rival — Hillary Clinton. And I think that relationship has proved to be extraordinarily professional, valuable and strengthening for both President Obama and Hillary Clinton. He did also bring in Joe Biden, who had run against him, as vice president. But most importantly, too, he tried to get [Republican] Judd Gregg, who first accepted the idea of being in the Cabinet and then retreated from it.
What that suggests is that it’s harder today to walk across those party lines to bring top people into top positions than it would have been in FDR’s time when he brought in two Republican leaders. Still, Obama also kept Bob Gates on, and that had been a Republican nomination. So I think he did more than we think he did — and in the current climate, which makes it much harder to do.
But I think, going forward, maybe the person he can learn from now is Franklin Roosevelt. If we assume the recession is not simply a problem that’s slowly recovering but that there’s a deeper problem with the economy, then Obama should possibly bring some CEO into the government in a senior-level position the way Roosevelt did. He needed to mobilize for the war, so he brought in the head of Sears Roebuck and the head of Chrysler, in addition to those two Republicans in his Cabinet. He was able to create the greatest business-government partnership probably in the history of our country, as business guys came through building ships, tanks, weapons and planes that were used by our allies in all corners of the world.
It’s hard for some of today’s business leaders to go through the whole process of what they have to reveal in order to come into the government. Yet just as it was true for the CEOs in Roosevelt’s time — who felt like they wanted to give back to their country, which had given so much to them — I think for some top business leaders, the chance to really help get our country mobilized for the future in a better way would be a great honor and a great challenge.
Do you think he should extend the invitation to Mitt Romney in some form?
You know, I had thought he would. But I think it just depends now on what Romney takes away from the election, and if he takes away what he said the other day — that he simply lost because Obama had given gifts to various segments of the population — that kind of thinking would make it hard. I had originally thought that it would be a good idea. He could come in and deal with a lot of the export-import issues. But I think it’s now a challenge for Romney himself to figure out what went wrong and if he really has the power within him to see that perhaps part of it had to do with the Republican primary system. It will take him acknowledging what happened, before he can take the next step of contributing going forward.
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