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13.02.2009 US & Canada

Obama cabinet: Unlucky or naive?

Obama cabinet: Unlucky or naive?

Picking a Cabinet? Easier said than done. Just ask Barack Obama.

The president came to power with a powerful promise of change and a pledge to end the old politics while ushering in a new era of political integrity.

There was to be political and racial diversity too, but it has not quite worked out as planned.

Nominees have already fallen like flies. Out has gone his first choice of commerce secretary, the New Mexico governor Bill Richardson, who is facing an investigation into his links with big business. The president's pick for health secretary, Tom Daschle, has had to pull out too after failing to keep up with his taxes.

The same problem befell Nancy Killefer, earmarked for the job of chief government performance officer. The president wanted Tim Geithner for treasury secretary, and did get his man despite having found another who has been embarrassed by tax issues.

But now there's the case of Judd Gregg, whose sudden departure is rather different from the rest. To paraphrase Oscar Wilde: to lose one may seem unfortunate but to lose four looks more like carelessness.

Mr Gregg is the first to withdraw his nomination because of "irresolvable conflicts" over policy, and the blame does not all belong to Mr Obama. Only 10 days ago the Republican was happy to accept his nomination as commerce secretary, praising the president's decision to reach across the aisle.

But in hindsight Senator Gregg says it was all a mistake. "I'm a fiscal conservative, as everybody knows a fairly strong one," the Senator said at a hastily-convened news conference.

He added: "It just became clear to me that it would be very difficult, day in and day out, to serve in this cabinet or any other cabinet."

It's just a shame for the Obama team that he had not thought through all that before.

No doubt fellow Republicans have been leaning on the senator to help him with his decision. But why did the words "fiscal conservative" fail to ring alarm bells in the White House - just as they were trying to get Congress to approve the $800bn dollar stimulus bill.