Team Obama Goes Cherry-Picking

Some of the key Clinton aides moving over to Mr. Obama had prided themselves on their candidate’s specificity and thoroughness, and often criticized the Obama campaign for its relative lack of it.

Ms. Tanden, who served as a filter to Mrs. Clinton on all domestic policy matters, suggested as much on March 27 in a Clinton campaign statement that “presidents have to do more than announce principles. They have to solve problems. At a time of crisis in our financial markets, Senator Obama announced a series of broad, vague principles.”

Mr. Feinstein was a regular on Clinton conference calls that mocked Mr. Obama’s policies as “just words.”

To hear some of the former Clinton policy experts now, such criticism was so much run-of-the-mill campaign hyperbole.

Ms. Rudman, who did surrogate work and helped develop policy speeches and talking points for Mrs. Clinton, especially on subjects concerning the Middle East, said that the vagueness charge pushed by Mr. Obama’s critics was a flawed one, and that it would change as the press and country took a closer look at the policy work the campaign had already developed.

“He has actually done a fair amount of detailed policy work,” said Ms. Rudman. “I think maybe now is the time people will be listening to him.”

Still, the downside of Mr. Obama’s image as a gifted orator is the perception, fanned enthusiastically by Mrs. Clinton during the primary and now by John McCain, that the pleasant language is a substitute for a deep grasp of substance and detail. And the demands for detailed, fine-tuned ideas are only going to become harder to meet during the general election, which, unlike the primary, will feature two candidates with major substantive differences on domestic and foreign policy.

There is a recognition of this in the Obama campaign, perhaps best illustrated by the hiring of Ms. Tanden as director of domestic policy to help coordinate and synthesize the work of t
he economic, health care and energy policy teams, among others.

“It expands the scope,” said a senior Obama adviser. “If you bring Neera in, she is inevitably going to have another 10 or 15 people on the list that she has been dealing with on health insurance.”

Mr. Sperling, who worked closely with Ms. Tanden on the Clinton campaign, suggested that the Obama campaign’s aggressive outreach to Clinton advisers and experts at all levels was a reflection of confidence in their own personnel, who had, after all, worked for the winning side.

He heaped praise on the Obama campaign’s Ms. Higginbottom, whom he called “the unsung policy hero of the 2008 presidential campaign.”

And he stressed, above all, that the Obama campaign’s post-primary season cherry-picking was a good and natural thing. “The theme behind these hires,” he said, “is who are the most competent and skilled people.”

jhorowitz@observer.com