Team of Rivals not a Nest of Vipers

Doug Ecks
3 min readOct 23, 2020

Joe Biden has said he wants a diverse set of viewpoints in his cabinet so he is vetting Republicans for appointees. I imagine this is influenced by Lincoln’s legendary ‘Team of Rivals’ and the book of the same name by Doris Goodwin published in 2005. Certainly I’ve seen Lincoln name checked by supporters of this policy move. However there’s a key distinction being missed by most, Seward and Chase were rivals of Lincoln, who were from his own party, the Republicans of that time.

Photo by Library of Congress on Unsplash

William Seward, of Seward’s Folly fame (the purchase of Alaska which was of course proved to be a brilliant coup), and Salmon Chase were his main rivals, for the nomination, of the Republican party. They were not candidates who had run for the nomination of the opposition party! John Kasich ran for the Republican nomination in 2016.

While Barack Obama did appoint Elizabeth Warren, a politician to his left, this was to a newly created cabinet position, not one with the influence and weight of history of the Secretary of State or Treasury, the positions filled by Seward and Chase respectively. His Secretary of States were Kerry and Clinton, a move that was much more seen as grooming her for a presidential run in 2016 than working with a rival. He could have appointed her right after his run but didn’t, ignoring the most apt homage of Lincoln’s team of rivals.

But Lincoln’s choices weren’t just political rivals, they were from opposing viewpoints, WITHIN his own party. Bernie Sanders notably had no place in Obama’s cabinet, certainly not in one of the top positions. The cabinet was full of establishment and corporate friendly advisers. As was Bill Clinton’s except for the brilliant but marginalized Robert Reich.

Lincoln was also a marvelous and pragmatic politician. In a fantastic study in leadership tactics, he managed to collect a letter of resignation from both Chase and Steward and thus said he had the conservative and radical elements of the party nicely balanced, as he described it ‘a pumpkin in each bag.’

This stands in sharp contrast to Obama’s obliviousness to GOP under McConnell’s leadership vowing to obstruct any and all legislation from the White House. Despite their avowed purpose of his destruction, whatever the consequences to the country Obama appointed a Republican to the…

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Doug Ecks

Doug Ecks, Esq is a lawyer and freelance writer for Whowhatwhy.org . He also writes novels as Doug X.