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Obama keeps Bush noms in top posts
WASHINGTON -- For all the GOP howling about Barack Obama radically steering the government to the left and leading the nation toward socialism, some of his major appointments are Republican men and women of the middle.
In what may be the top two national posts in light of today's crises at home and abroad, Obama stuck with the picks of former president George W. Bush in reappointing Fed chief Ben Bernanke and Defense Secretary Robert Gates.
Bernanke last week was given another four-year term to preside over nothing less than saving the U.S. economy and then keeping it strong. He was appointed by Bush in 2006 after a short stint as chairman of Bush's Council of Economic Advisers. Gates was kept in his Pentagon post to wind down the war in Iraq and build up the one in Afghanistan.
The loss of Sen. Ted Kennedy to brain cancer led to a chorus of laments about the dearth of politicians these days able to reach across party lines. While Obama hasn't had much luck with the highly polarized Congress in building bipartisan support on legislation, he's reached out often to Republicans in filling key jobs.
The notion that he's moving the government to the left "is laughable, it's utterly laughable," said Thomas E. Mann, a government scholar at the Brookings Institution. Mann said the decision to keep Bernanke and Gates "doesn't buy him a thing with Republicans but was a sign of good judgment in both cases" because Bernanke and Gates were doing good jobs.
Obama's larger problem is that he still does not have his own people in a majority of the government's top policymaking positions requiring Senate confirmation. But those he has put in top positions include a number of Republicans or nontraditional Democrats.
Meanwhile, Obama has been contending with an angry left upset at him for not insisting more forcefully on a government-run health insurance option and for his decisions to retain some Bush-era counterterrorism policies.
"The effort to portray Obama as dangerously leftist just doesn't have any traction," said Stephen Cimbala, a political science professor at Penn State. "I think if they want to pick up seats in 2010 and get back up off the floor where Bush left them, they're going to have to find a way to go beyond the very narrow core Republican base and reach out to moderates. The case they have to make against Obama is a case about competency and performance. Not about ideology."
Republicans are going all out on the war path, especially on health care overhaul and budget issues.
House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, accused Obama of a management style that's "not leadership, it's negligence." Sen. Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., said in Saturday's GOP video and Internet address that Obama's Democrats favor "cutting hundreds of billions of dollars from the elderly to create new government programs."
In asking Bernanke to stay on, Bush praised the former Princeton economist for "his calm and wisdom" in steering the economy through the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression.
At the time he announced he was sticking with Gates at the Pentagon, Obama said he didn't ask the member of the Bush war cabinet to remain because of his party affiliation but because he felt he could best "serve the interests of the American people." Obama said he was "going to be welcoming a vigorous debate inside the White House."
Meanwhile, Obama returned from his vacation in Massachusetts on Martha's Vineyard and, after a few days at Camp David, will redouble his efforts toward getting a bipartisan health care overhaul and wants to work with both Democrats and Republicans, White House officials said.
"I think that it's unfortunate, again, it's tremendously unfortunately that it looks like Republicans are stepping away from seeking a bipartisan solution," presidential press secretary Robert Gibbs told reporters on Monday. "I think ... it's bad for this town, but it's much worse for this country."
EDITOR'S NOTE -- Tom Raum covers politics and economics for The Associated Press.