Obama’s squeaky cabinet

Screw the Cabinet: WaPo piece on Obama’s cabinet feeling left out. This is a hardy perennial, for the simple reason that cabinet government almost never works.* Efficient White Houses are run from the center, in part because cabinet officers typically become advocates for their bureaucracies, if they aren’t already when appointed. (When was the last time a cabinet secretary said, “You know, a lot of the things we do around here? We shouldn’t be doing them!” I think of James Watt and Sam Pierce in the Reagan administration, and that’s about it.)  One aspect of recent Democratic cabinets puzzles me, though, which is the failure to use cabinet officials as spokespeople. Maybe one of them would be a more effective salesman than Obama. Or is that what Obama is worried about? … (Clinton had a bit of the same problem, in that he failed to use his cabinet picks to nurture a generation of potential successor centrists. They would have come in handy in 2004.) …

* –This is an old teaching of Charles Peters of The Washington Monthly.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Jeff-Vanke/100000552129448 Jeff Vanke

    This is because Cabinet appointments are political appointments, like in parliamentary government systems. A British prime minister or a French president (when his own party controls parliament) have separate staffs to cover all those policy issues. (In fact, in French, “cabinet” = the staff directly under a given official, not the coalition of ministers.) A difference is, American Cabinet members have less institutional power, just amorphous electoral leverage (in Congress or more broadly) and/or fundraising leverage.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Jeff-Vanke/100000552129448 Jeff Vanke

      that is, less institutional power within the party — they aren’t as entrenched at the national level of politics