Opinion: Familiar faces could thrive anew

As we begin a new year, a new Congress and a new term for the president, we obviously need some new people — if for no other reason than to give the old people something to talk about.  

In the Congress, of course, there are many new faces. But some of the freshest possibilities involve moving well-known names into new positions. Here are some ideas for both the Hill and the administration.


Barney Frank   

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It is hard to believe that he ever left. Actually, I am not sure he did. We need his quips, his wit and his occasionally-accurate assessments of how to approach complex and politically charged issues.  Gov. Deval Patrick (D-Mass.) has to pick an interim replacement for departing Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) when he moves to the State Department. Why not Barney instead of some vanilla, Boston Globe liberal from the Beacon Hill patronage machine? 

Frank would not have enough time in the Senate to do much damage. There will be no passing Dodd-Frank deux, for example. But he might actually be willing to point out that some of the implementation of the original bill is not going well. It has caused a significant disruption in credit on Main Street and is also making our capital markets much less liquid and competitive.   

Frank is that type of guy: He tends to acknowledge the obvious and explain it to others who would otherwise ignore it. He will never be mistaken for a wallflower; it is often difficult to catch up with his language or his mind.


Chuck Hagel   

It looks like he is coming back whether people want him to or not.  There seems to be a disproportionate number of Republicans who do not want this former Republican senator to reappear.  

He is of course defying the adage that old politicians should just fade away by coming back into focus  with a really big job as head of the Pentagon. The Republican opposition to him is apparently rooted in the fact that he has positions that are unusual by the standard of the day on Iraq, Iran and Israel.   

The Middle East can be a vexing problem, and Chuck’s track record there confirms its frustrations and unpredictability. But his record is not much worse than that of anyone else who has ever tried to engage constructively in a region that defies constructive engagement.  In any event, he will be working for the president and not as a freelancing senator trying to get a New York Times magazine cover story.  

In addition, Hagel is a strong, out-of-the-box thinker. This is exactly what the defense establishment needs right now.  Defense resources are about to undergo a major downshift due to budget pressures and the winding down of the boots-on-the-ground approach to fighting terrorism. If the military is to come through this period without being fundamentally degraded, it is going to need some creative and probably unorthodox thinking. Hagel will bring that.   

Another benefit: If they put Barney Frank on the Armed Services Committee, the tickets to see the Massachusetts liberal question Chuck at his confirmation hearing will set a new price record on eBay.


Hank Paulson

There is no more important place in the world for America to have a strong and thoughtful presence then China.  It is the key nation for us going forward, both economically and strategically.  

China has just gone through one of its most important transfers of power in its post-Mao period. The new leadership of China is by all reports dynamic, aggressive and thoughtful. 

Paulson has committed a massive amount of his professional and personal life to understanding China,  its economy, its culture and its history.  He has even set up and funded an institute at the University of Chicago to promote working relationships between the Chinese and us.  

Paulson would without doubt make an exceptional ambassador to China.  His appointment would immediately signal to the Chinese and to the world that President Obama and his administration understand the importance and significance of our continuing to develop a constructive and effective relationship. In the parlance of bowling — which by the way is not one of Paulson’s strengths — this would be a “ten strike.”

Judd Gregg is a former governor and three-term senator from New Hampshire who served as chairman and ranking member of the Senate Budget Committee and as ranking member of the Senate Appropriations subcommittee on Foreign Operations. He also is an international adviser to Goldman Sachs.