Will Lincoln's 'team of rivals' play today?

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As Barack Obama considers whether to include former rival Hillary Clinton in his Cabinet, the president-elect is emulating his role model, Abraham Lincoln, who boldly put political adversaries in his Cabinet, hoping to forge a strong presidency through the heat of conflicting ideas.

But historians argue that Lincoln's model, described in the best-selling book "Team of Rivals," by Doris Kearns Goodwin, is a high-risk strategy for Obama, one that could alienate his allies and sow dysfunction inside the White House. Few modern presidents have made political adversaries Cabinet appointees, in this view, and even fewer could make the arrangement work.

"I question the entire concept of 'Team of Rivals' being sound," said Douglas Brinkley, a Rice University historian and author. In Obama's case, he said, "It's not organic, and it's not realistic. It's a very ethereal idea being played on a high level, and it's based on a false historical analogy."

Indeed, one historian argued in a newspaper column that Goodwin's book sidesteps the rancor inside Lincoln's Cabinet and does not mention that the president himself struggled to control the turmoil.

"The Cabinet dynamics were kind of poisonous," said Matthew Pinsker, a Civil War specialist at Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pa. "It's nothing I think President Obama would want to emulate in his administration."

Goodwin said yesterday that there is no question the dissent Lincoln faced at times bordered on dysfunction, but added: "I think the most important thing to realize about the outcome of Lincoln's decision is that it produced the three goals that mattered the most: He won the war, he saved the union, and he ended slavery. That's the fun part that I enjoyed, to see how complicated it was in that inner circle."

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