Obama's Cabinet So Far

With two exceptions — Attorney General designee Eric Holder and Obama’s pick for Treasury Secretary, Tim Geithner — most of Barack Obama’s cabinet selections appear reasonable and some even “centrist.” But the candidate of “change” is creating a cabinet that looks like the third Clinton Administration — after pillorying John McCain as the second coming of George Bush.

Incoming Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner is not well-known outside financial circles. His reputation is as a talented central banker with important crisis-management experience, having been involved in dealing with financial turmoil on several continents during the 1990s. But his involvement in our 2008 financial crisis so far is a very sharp double-edged sword: He was instrumental in the increasingly expensive bailout of AIG, and there remains confusion over his role in allowing the failure of Lehman Brothers. A news story quotes Treasury Secretary Paulson about Geithner’s involvement in the bailout: “His judgment and creativity have been critical to designing and implementing the necessary actions we’ve taken.” It’s hard to tell whether that should give us comfort or pause.

While the rest of the economic team is also more academic than partisan, there is no doubt that Larry Summers (incoming head of the National Economic Council “NEC”) and Peter Orszag (coming from the Congressional Budget Office to run the Office of Management and Budget) are reliable Democrats, as should be expected. All three of these leaders of Obama’s economic team served in the Clinton Administration, with Geithner and Summers at Treasury (where Summers was Secretary from 1999-2001) and Orszag as a member of the NEC. In 2005, Orszag proposed to “save Social Security” by having a perpetually rising payroll tax rate and ruling out personal accounts.

It’s hard to talk about our next Secretary of State without resort to cliché. Because in the Clinton White House scandals were a daily diet, investigations and special prosecutors were a part of the daily lexicon. And because of Hillary’s central role involvement in Travelgate, Filegate, Whitewater (remember those Rose Law Firm billing records) and the Monica Lewinsky mess among others, her fitness for office — if questioned — would be a bore. And the Clinton pick is a bit surprising because of her public disagreement with Obama on some major foreign policy questions, such as meeting with dictators “without preconditions.”
It is difficult to imagine Hillary, who clearly wears the pants in her family, subordinating her views to Obama’s — especially since she has far more relevant experience than he does. She is more likely to be correct than her new boss is, or at least she’ll be convinced that’s true. One has to wonder if the ultimate Clinton retread, Bill Clinton himself, will be attached like a remora to Hillary, jaunting around the world with her to meet with foreign leaders and ogle their wives.

Just this week, Bill Clinton said “I think my involvement will be what our involvement with each other’s work has always been, that is, all the years I was a governor and president I talked to her about everything.” He added that “the decisions will have to be ultimately the president-elect Obama’s decisions” but if anyone thinks that will slow down the Clintons’ ambitions they haven’t been paying attention for the last 15 years.

Finally, Hillary’s accepting the job is fascinating because it all but removes her ability to run for president in 2012, assuming Obama will run again.

For now, Barack Obama is retaining Robert Gates as Defense Secretary, a move certain to anger the left. The decision might show a newly-found realization by Obama that we are in wars that can’t be won by retreating from them. But that is altogether unlikely. Obama has said again and again that Americans should leave Iraq in sixteen months. Though Gates may disagree, he’s very unlikely to resign rather than follow Obama’s orders.

We know this, in part, from reports that Gates’ top assistants will leave, though the status might not be as quo as the headlines first appeared. Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England is going and may be replaced by an Obama campaign advisor. And several undersecretaries of defense may also depart, including James Clapper, the undersecretary for intelligence.

We will never know whether Obama demanded that Gates’ team be replaced with Obama supporters, but the wholesale changes make one wonder whether Gates will stand up to Obama if there is a disagreement on how (or whether) to avoid losing in Afghanistan or to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon. And if Gates does stand up to Obama and ends up losing his job over it, how long will we have a headless Department of Defense…and will the new Secretary be chosen as a political favor or for his abilities?

The attacks in India and a new report saying that Iran is likely just a couple of years away from creating a nuclear weapon make it absolutely critical that Gates do everything possible to force Obama to live in the real world. Gates, especially with his experience as Director of the CIA, knows what to do. The question is does he know how to get it done with a President who may be more inclined to surrender than to defend us?

Barack Obama has tapped retired Marine General James L. Jones to be national security adviser. Jones, who served in Vietnam in 1967 and 1968, has a tremendous military resume, including being the first Marine Corps general to be the Supreme Allied Commander-Europe (SACEUR). He is a serious man with a serious job and a reputation for managing political situations without being viewed as partisan, or even very interested in politics, himself. Jones is certainly Barack Obama’s best cabinet choice.

New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson will be our next Secretary of Commerce, a fitting repayment for his loud and early endorsement of Obama. And why not? As he said in CNN’s “Spin Room” in 2001, “You know, I’ve always been in the Congress, at the UN. I’ve been Energy Secretary. I’ve never had, as they say, a real job.” If you’re appointing someone to a job which shouldn’t even exist, you might as well appoint a guy whom most people would like to have a drink (or ten) with. And, if you’re going to appoint a Democrat to a job related to Commerce, it might as well be a Democrat who isn’t completely alien to capitalism. Richardson has served on the boards of Valero Energy, Diamond Offshore Drilling, and City National Bank. A Board position Richardson must be less proud of is his service for Peregrine Systems during the time that company executives defrauded investors while paying themselves millions in bonuses and perks. Despite his endorsement Barack Obama, Richardson represents yet another Clinton retread in the administration of “change.”

The two other cabinet choices so far that are most questionable are Eric Holder for Attorney General and Janet Napolitano for the Department of Homeland Security. Clinton retread Holder was the DOJ’s second-in-command under Janet Reno and effectively in charge near the end of the Clinton Administration with Reno’s failing health. The case against Holder is very strong, with his involvement in the Marc Rich pardon, pardons for FALN terrorists, the Elian Gonazles case, and more. The short version: Eric Holder is unfit to be Attorney General of the United States.

With his choice of Janet Napolitano for homeland security secretary, Obama has picked someone with a mixed record on border enforcement but not a shred of experience when it comes to terrorism. Like Richardson, this choice appears to be simple political payback after Governor Napolitano’s endorsement of Obama…fully two months before Richardson’s endorsement. Again, the attacks in India and the report of Iran’s moving toward nuclear weapons should cause great concern in the selection of a “border state governor” for this position. Yes, illegal immigration is a big issue in this country, but it’s a lot easier to learn about that than it is to learn about the many aspects of international terrorism in which the homeland security secretary should be expert.

And as long as we’re talking about political payback and political retreads, we have the selection of Tom Daschle as Secretary of Health and Human Services. It is an interesting choice, given the Obama campaign’s allergy to lobbyists. For the last several years, Daschle has been affiliated with a Washington, D.C. law/lobbying firm which earned millions representing health care and drug companies before Congress. Still, if Richardson and Napolitano were going to be rewarded for their political support of Obama, Daschle was even more qualified by that standard: His endorsement came in February, 2007, almost a year before Napolitano’s and more than a year before Richardson’s.

More concerning than Daschle’s post-Senate career is his book “Critical”, published earlier this year in which he argues for a complete government takeover of our health care system. According to the Publishers Weekly review of the book, “Daschle proposes creating a Federal Health Board, similar to the Federal Reserve System…in addition to a merging of employers’ plans, Medicaid and Medicare with an expanded FEHBP (Federal Employee Health Benefits Program) that would cover everyone.” The book’s jacket quotes Barack Obama as saying that Daschle’s “Federal Reserve for Health concept holds great promise.” I wonder if the Federal Reserve for Health would operate our nation’s health policy as efficiently our Department of Agriculture does with our crop policies…can you pay doctors not to treat patients? Don’t laugh. That’s exactly what the UK did to control costs in their socialized medicine system.

Overall, Barack Obama’s cabinet selections are a mixed bag in terms of quality, with James Jones the best selection and Eric Holder the worst. The questions remain, however, whether his choices — particularly the many Clinton retreads — will be loyal to Obama or will follow their own paths, especially knowing that they’ll have the support of Hillary Clinton in the cabinet room with them.

And for all “govern from the center” talk, Obama’s choices represent a true leftward movement in government, even if not as much as the far left wing of the party wants to see.

The candidate of “change” says that change will come from him, not necessarily from his cabinet members. Maybe that’s the scariest idea of all.

Cartoon by Brett Noel.