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What About Bob?

Jonathan Martin has a curious article over at Politico reporting the view from the Republican trenches that "it looks increasingly unlikely that Obama will break new ground when it comes to fashioning a bipartisan government." Evidently, keeping Bob Gates at the Pentagon isn't bipartisan or high-profile enough:

[I]t would hardly signal a dramatically new style of partisan bridge-building. For one, Gates is not a sharply partisan figure. Before becoming president of Texas A&M, he was a lifelong national security official, spending most of his career in the CIA and heading the spy agency under the first President George Bush. For another, he almost certainly would be a transition figure, rather than one expected by the public or colleagues to stay put or be a decisive policymaking voice for a full term.

Nor would there be novelty in Obama reaching to a moderate figure from the opposition party to lead the Pentagon. That was exactly what Bill Clinton did in 1997 when he tapped then-Sen. William Cohen (R-Maine) to be his second-term defense secretary.

I concede that Obama booting Gates and bringing back Don Rumsfeld--who, wouldn't you know it, has got some opinions about the way forward in Afghanistan--would be a more novel move. But I don't think we should underestimate the novelty and partisan bridge-building nature of Obama keeping on Gates. For all his moderation, Gates is still George W. Bush's Secretary of Defense. And for Obama to turn over one of the top three cabinet posts to someone who's not only a Republican but who's associated with the outgoing (and reviled) Republican president would be no small gesture. 

Now, if Obama chooses Gates, he'll have reasons other than novelty and partisan bridge-building for doing so. But it's unfortunate--and telling--that some conservatives are already laying the groundwork to claim that Obama's a hyper-partisan divider. In short, there's no pleasing some people.

--Jason Zengerle