The following is an excerpt, somewhat edited, from an email I sent to a friend in Manhattan who strongly supported John McCain but has since warmed somewhat to the idea of an Obama administration as the president-elect has rolled out his team. I know I am inflicting this on mainly people who are interested in the Japanese scene, its politics in particular. Sorry about that; I’ll try to come back to that, to find out if I think I have anything meaningful to say.The people Obama is naming to administrative oversight positions are to the best of my knowledge all even-keeled, steady figures. True, Clinton lurched from one pitch to another toward the end of her campaign, but she made the switches perfectly, like a polished actor. (So did Romney, in a reprogrammable robot sort of way. McCain on the other hand was visibly uncomfortable when he had to say things he didn't believe in.)
That—plus competence—appears to be what the no-drama Obama has been looking for. That is surely a big reason why Robert Gates is an odds-on favorite to stay on, at least for awhile, as Defense Secretary. Note that Obama made the notorious Rahm Emanuel Chief of Staff and the brilliant but gauche Larry Summers the National Economic Council chief instead of Treasury Secretary. These two don't have to run bureaucracies; they run (more politely, coordinate) the people who run them—on behalf of Obama. I also like the way Obama has been rolling out his team.
The thing about Obama is, when people compare him to JFK, they mention his intelligence and wit, youth, physical grace, attractive family, and breaking the political barrier (his race to Kennedy's Catholicism), but they don't talk about the aura of detachment and the pragmatic ruthlessness that the two have in common. But how else could he have severed his ties with his church after Rev. Wright had retired? Of course Kennedy took horrible chances—apparently it runs in the family—whereas Obama is cautious—until he makes up his mind—and methodical.
All in all, I think Obama's going to be as effective as anyone else can be, given the circumstances. But he's going to need some luck to be a two-term president, and a lot of luck to be remembered as a great one.