Editor's note: My original title struck the wrong tone for the diary. Titles are hard. Appy polly logies.
I've been away on business since around Thanksgiving and I've been reading "The Godfather" with every spare moment. Great book.
I think we could learn something from one of the scenes that happens early on. At Don Corleone's daughter's wedding, Santino (known by everyone but his father the Don as "Sonny") notices some government agents are writing down the license plates of everyone at the wedding. Sonny is known for his temper (among other things) and rushes out to the G-Men, spitting on one of their cars.
You see that much in the movie, but in the book we're told that Vito Corleone was expecting that the FBI would show up and had instructed every wedding guest to come to the event in a car they did not own. Watching Santino's actions calmly, Vito decided that his son's rage served a good purpose. It made it seem to the FBI men that they had caught the Corleones unaware.
Why am I going over this, besides the fact that I love mobster movies? Well, before I left there was a lot of second-guessing Barack Obama's cabinet choices. The appointment of Gen. Shinseki seems to have reassured some of the worried Kossacks around here, but there is one important thing that seems to have been lost in the debate over Obama's cabinet picks.
That is this: Barack Obama sets the policy.
Too often we're running around like Sonny Corleone in a fit of rage, stamping our feet that we're not getting our way. Meanwhile Don Obama is sitting calmly at the top working quietly to put his plan into place.
Now of course this isn't to say that the cabinet positions and the people who will fill them are not important. Wise leaders surround themselves with reliable people who give good advice, but they are not bound by that advice to the extent that they feel obligated to follow it if it does not match their vision.
If you're uncomfortable with the gangland comparison, permit me another, more conventional one.
Harry S. Truman had a little desk placard that read "The Buck Stops Here." If any of you want to get me something for Christmas, I hear you can buy replicas of that placard. I just love that philosophy of leadership.
Ronald Reagan, the patron saint of conservatism, subscribed to a theory of leadership that was heavy on delegating responsibility. Now, there's nothing wrong with that in and of itself, but when the shit hit the fan, Ronnie tended to blame his underlings for his problems, as he did when he claimed that the people behind the Iran-Contra scandal acted independently from his knowledge or say-so.
But with Barack Obama, as with Harry Truman, the buck will stop at the so-called "Resolute desk" in the Oval Office.
Again, this does NOT mean that the Cabinet appointments are meaningless. They will be there to give their advice and information. That is as it should be.
However, as some other Kossacks have pointed out, this is a bit like the story of when President Lincoln would poll his Cabinet and say, "That was six nays to one aye. The ayes have it." Lincoln listened to the nays and listened carefully, but it was his aye that counted in the end.
If you're not a fan of "The Godfather," here's a few imaginary conversations that will hopefully help convey the impression of Obama's leadership that I'm going for:
(Warning: Simplistic scenarios ahead. Proceed with intellectual caution)
ROBERT GATES: Mr. President, I think we should retain our forces in Iraq for the entirety of your first term.
BARACK OBAMA: No.
GATES: OK, then.
Or perhaps this one:
SECRETARY CLINTON: Mr. President, I believe the threat posed by Iran requires a full-scale invasion of that country.
BARACK OBAMA: No.
CLINTON: OK, then.
Or maybe even:
SEN. HARRY REID: Mr. President, your health care reform plan will never pass through Congress. We just don't have the votes. I suggest you abandon this plan.
BARACK OBAMA: No.
REID: OK, then.
I hope that clears a few things up. We're not always going to agree with every decision that President Obama makes, but the important thing is this -- we can at least be certain that those decisions will have been made by him.