11/18/08 — Bipartisan leaning: Let's hope exchange of ideas is not just for show

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Bipartisan leaning: Let's hope exchange of ideas is not just for show

After a long year of campaigning, President-elect Barack Obama and his former Republican rival Sen. John McCain spent some time together Monday.

The 40-minute meeting was designed to forge a new partnership between the former adversaries as this country prepares for a new leader and -- allegedly -- a new direction.

Not much was released from the meeting, but its gist was simply that the battle lines must now be put away and this country must unite behind its new president. And that new president, in turn, promises to listen to advice and ideas from both sides of the aisle.

This is not the first overture Obama has made since his election in November, and he says it will not be his last. The president-elect has decided to model his administration, in part, on the theory that Abraham Lincoln espoused -- a team of rivals.

And it will be great if this bipartisan spirit really does carry on through January and beyond. The country will probably be a better place if it does.

But as Obama chooses his team -- and the names start to fly -- this is a time to remember something that might not have been a factor for any other president who has been chosen to lead this nation. They did not promise wholesale change in how Washington does business. Obama has.

The old Washington procedure is to use a victory like this to reward long-suffering party leaders -- to give them positions of authority in the new administration as a sort of perk. It also is a chance to soothe former rivals.

There is also a tendency not to consider anyone from across the aisle. Why would you? To the victor go the spoils, right?

President-elect Obama has promised a new view, a leadership team with diverse ideas as well as backgrounds.

As he chooses his staff for the next four years, he should remember that promise. And that means making sure that every person he picks for a position of leadership is the best-qualified to do the job. This is not a popularity contest or a chance to repay favors.

The American people elected someone they thought would be different, who would change the face of politics. President-elect Obama is now charged with being that agent -- and that job starts right now, with the people he picks to assist him at the helm.

Published in Editorials on November 18, 2008 10:55 AM