When I look at Barack Obama’s big appointments so far I see him making very practical decisions. In leaving Gates in charge of Defense he is covering his flank for a drawdown in Iraq. The decision will delay any major reforms at the Pentagon but the biggest job on his plate is extricating our forces from Iraq. Obama doesn’t want Republicans sniping at every turn as he makes the difficult decisions that will be required. Insofar as the Republicans snipe anyway, their criticism will be less effective and damaging.

In putting Clinton in at State, Obama made peace with the strongest rival faction within the party. The foreign policy hawks withing the Democratic Party now have a champion that is in charge of diplomacy, and that disarms them.

In choosing Tom Dashle for Health & Human Services, he’s picked someone more suited to ushering legislation through the Senate than ideologically suited to fight for progressive change. Howard Dean would probably be a better Health Secretary after a bill is passed, but he would not be the best person to get a bill passed.

In selecting Tim Geithner for Treasury Secretary, Obama has acted to calm the markets and offer reassurance to jittery investors. It’s not clear that Geithner shares, or does not share, Obama’s vision for how to regulate the financial sector, but he is popular and trusted on Wall Street.

I don’t read these tea leaves as sending an ideological message one way or the other. Maybe the lack of an ideological message is a message in itself.

There’s an element of rewarding allies, as Daschle was instrumental in building his campaign and Govs. Napolitano and Richardson provided invaluable endorsements and campaigned hard for him. But all three choices make good, solid sense in their own right.

Other names are just rumors at this point, but there are been some good picks floated. Xavier Beccera as U.S. Trade Representative would give us a strong proponent of Fair Trade. Raul Grijalva as Secretary of the Interior would be a solid progressive pick.

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