Cabinet Speculation

A little more than four years ago, right after Kerry had wrapped up the nomination and the punditry was in the midst of its quadrennial veepstakes speculation season, I decided to ignore that game and instead speculated about Kerry’s cabinet. Of course, there ended up being no right answer, and even if Kerry had won the vast majority of the list would probably had turned out to be wrong (Max Sawicky as Treasury Secretary? was I on crack?). Nevermind that; here’s my premature and baseless speculation about a potential Obama cabinet.
Secretary of State: The most logical option would be Tony Lake, the most experienced member of Obama’s foreign policy inner circle, who more than qualified himself between his four years running Policy Planning for Cyrus Vance and Ed Muskie and as Clinton’s first-term NSA. But Blake Hounshell, who I trust on these matters, is convinced that Lake has no interest in reentering government. Of the remaining options, my preference would be Zbigniew Brzezinski, but something tells me an 80-year-old who gives the Israel lobby heart palpitations would be tough to get past even an overwhelmingly Democratic Senate. I’m also a fan of Strobe Talbott, but picking the president of the Brookings Institution would be a pretty bad way of signaling a shift from traditional beltway thinking on foreign affairs; indeed, Talbott is on record as saying Obama and Clinton aren’t far apart on the matter. If I had to guess, I’d say Obama will pick Joe Biden. He loses points for his war vote, but has paid his dues by repeatedly going to the mattresses with Republicans on FP.
National Security Advisor: Before “monstergate”, this was a dead heat between Samantha Power and Susan Rice. Now, Rice probably has the upper hand. Granted, this isn’t a post requiring Senate confirmation, so Obama has more leeway in his choice, leeway he could conceivably use to pick Power, but my guess is that she’ll go in as Rice’s technical deputy but de facto equal.
Secretary of Defense: I’ll eat my hat if Richard Danzig doesn’t get this. He is, along with Lake, Power, Rice, Sarah Sewall and Greg Craig, one of the six key players in the Obama foreign policy team, and he’s the only one with a background that makes sense for the post. A large part of the success of the Obama campaign is due to the fact that while Mandy Grunwald, Patti Solis Doyle, and Mark Penn were having knock-down, drag-out fights, David Axelrod, Steve Hildebrand, and David Plouffe were winning an election. It isn’t hard to imagine that this preference on Obama’s part for consensus over internal conflict would translate into his advisor appointments, and that it would help him in much the same way. That means focusing on rewarding long-time allies who have a proven abilities to work well together rather than integrating ex-Clintonistas. That means appointing Danzig. A brief sidenote: Danzig and Craig are the two policy people on the campaign I ever got to speak to, back in late December, early January when they came up to canvass before the primary. I didn’t talk for long with Craig, but Danzig was unbelievably sharp and personally very charming. It was kind of surreal to have a talk with an ex-Secretary of the Navy about my college admissions process. DoD employees would be lucky to have him as a boss.
Secretary of Homeland Security: Definitely Richard Clarke. Without a doubt, Richard Clarke. He owns this area in the public consciousness, he’s advised Obama, and if that weren’t enough, he just wrote a book about fixing government bureaucracy, a critical task in giving the Homeland Security department any shot at success. The only other option I can think of is Tim Roemer, and he lacks the executive experience necessary to fix the department.
Secretary of Treasury: Hmm. Kerry’s logical choice, Roger Altman, is a Clinton supporter, albeit a Clinton supporter who’s been pushing for her to drop out recently. Larry Summers is young enough for another go around, and apparently wants one, but I can’t imagine that would go over well with Clinton’s female supporters, who are already pissed off (justifiably or not) as it is. Volcker would be a good pick if age weren’t a factor, but at this point either Altman or Timothy Geithner seems likeliest.
Attorney General: Artur Davis gets the most mentions here, and while he’s certainly qualified, and having a black attorney general would do wonders to rejuvenate the Civil Rights Department of the DOJ, the prospect of Obama picking a law school classmate raises the specter of Gonzales just a little too much. To be sure, Davis would be orders of magnitude better, but it might be tough for Obama to convince the public that he believes the Attorney General ought to be “the people’s lawyer, not the president’s lawyer” when he’s picking a personal friend for the post. He’d be a natural for White House Counsel, though I doubt he’d want the post; I’d guess he’d rather run for Alabama’s open governorship or Richard Shelby’s Senate seat in 2010. I’m guessing this is where Obama will reward John Edwards. Labor or HHS might be a closer fit to his interests, but I think he’d use the power of the DOJ well, supporting striking workers, speeding up civil rights prosecutions, and suing polluters and other corporate malefactors. It would be a strong and graceful way for him to end his career.
Secretary of Health & Human Services: David Cutler is the main Obama staffer on this issue, but I think he’s a little too wonkish for an administrative post like this. If Obama screws up and doesn’t pick one of them as VP, John Kitzhaber and Bill Bradley both have spectacular records on this issue. Kitzhaber in particular seems like he would relish the opportunity to shape health policy at that level.
Secretary of Labor: Karen Kornbluh is probably the most accomplished of Obama’s staffers on work/life issues, and I think there’s good reason to think she’d do a great job here.

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