There has been much talk in this post-election period of Lincoln — and, in particular, the Lincoln of historian Doris Kearns Goodwin's A Team of Rivals — as a model for President-elect Obama. The idea of Goodwin's title was that the nation's 16th president fashioned his
cabinet out of men who were covetous of power and not only were "rivals" in that regard to each other but were also — or at least had been — rivals to the president himself. Such an interpretation of Obama's ongoing cabinet choices was prompted not only by reports that the president-elect was reading books about Lincoln (and Goodwin's in particular) but by the fact that such cabinet designates, actual or pending, as Hillary Clinton and Bill Richardson had literally been Obama's competitors during the Democratic primary season. By definition, such appointees (or so goes the theory) would constitute a tested talent pool, and they would cohere effectively through old-fashioned balance-of-power logistics. Another book currently being read by Obama is Jean Edward Smith's FDR, a well-regarded history of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. If the exemplary nature of Lincoln is obvious, so is that of Roosevelt, who became president at a time of economic catastrophe.
That Obama's emerging cabinet consists primarily of centrists (including some Republicans) should not dismay the activists. Roosevelt's first cabinet, as Smith makes clear, was like that, too. Roosevelt had in mind to create a government of national reconciliation, and so, it would seem, does Obama. It was from that point of perceived unity that FDR launched his dramatic innovations, and perhaps Obama will find, via his conscientious efforts to hear from a variety of voices, that he, too, will be able to marshal a consensus toward the dramatic change that he promised so often in his campaign.
"Jump and Grab" Redux
The current debate over liberalizing residency requirements for Memphis police and the brouhaha over Councilman Harold Collins' call for sheriff's deputies to patrol Memphis streets have together stirred an echo for those Memphians with a modest amount of historical memory.
It was not quite a generation ago that Sheriff Jack Owens, a swashbuckling sort who wore mayoral ambitions on his sleeve, ordered his deputies to do just what Collins is now proposing — to regard the city of Memphis, which, after all, lies within Shelby County, as terrain for active law enforcement activities. Owens coined the term "jump and grab" for the drug raids which he empowered his deputies to pursue inside the city.
Then as now, such overlapping of jurisdictions could lead to friction, and, in the wake of Owens' unexpected suicide in 1990, the candidates to succeed him in that year's election vied with each other in the intensity of their pledges to respect the sensitivities of the Memphis Police Department and to observe mutually exclusive de facto boundaries.
Maybe that was the right idea. But maybe, too, Owens had something, and Collins was right to suggest another look-see.