Let me finish tonight with this: the Obama second term. I don’t know anyone who doesn’t want it to be better than the first. Yes, he did valuable, historic things in the first four years. I want him to be great. Being a great president—not just a good one—is the role President Obama needs to fulfill. What Benjamin Disraeli was to Britain, he needs to be to America.
So for that, I have advice.
Go high. Fill your cabinet with top people. Go for the people you couldn’t get your first term. Don’t promote people. Go out and get the best, like Mike Bloomberg for Treasury. Get people who are difficult to deal with, people with egos and separate distinctions, principals.
Don’t head to a second term by filling your White House and Cabinet with people you’re comfortable with. Fill it with the highest, toughest talent you can find—people who got there on their own without your assistance.
I’ve seen a lot of second terms become disasters. They do because presidents make lazy decisions. Ike had Sherman Adams as his chief of staff, a disaster and a crooked one. Nixon had “yes men” and worse than Ike could have imagined. Reagan blew it with Iran-Contra by letting his staffers pick his second-term chief of staff. Don Regan was an unmitigated disaster of no political talent whatsoever. Clinton just did not have people around him who were ready to step up and keep him from the problem of Monica—something they saw but didn’t stop.
The best people for a second term are difficult people, people of ego and independent strength. Go with anything less and you’re heading for thin ice, Mr. President.
Everyone who voted for Barack Obama wants this presidency to end on an upward projectory, going for big challenges and getting the best possible people around him as confederates in the U.S. Senate, as strong government ministers in the Cabinet around him.
Go for it, Mr. President. Good isn’t great. Great is great.