Deconstructing the Cabinet

So I'm thinking about the Republican Veepstakes, and trying to see how many members of the Bush cabinet I can name without a cheat sheet, and I remember this old line of President Nixon's, “every Cabinet should include a future president”. Which thorough the magic of google brought me to this paragraph from a (rather too complimentary?) Nixon obituary reprinted from the Washington Post

The man who said that “every Cabinet should include a future president” deserves large credit for the sumptuousness of so many of his appointments. This was not a leader unnerved to have commanding personalities working for him. Like perhaps none since the New Deal, the Nixon administration brought to prominence dozens of figures who became national fixtures. Mentioning Henry Kissinger, George Shultz, William Simon, Dick Cheney, George Bush, Bob Dole (as Republican national chairman), William Safire, Pat Buchanan and Alexander Haig only scratches the surface.

Nobody is ever going to say that about George W. Bush. How many members of the Bush cabinet can you even name without help? And, now that you've peeked, how many of them (or other top Bush people) look like a future President? I make it about one—Colin Powell, and, while he certainly hasn't trashed it fatally, he hasn't done his reputation much good by his service in this Administration. As for the rest of them, …

On the whole it's a pretty sad lot.

The rest of the Cabinet are either too old, too identified in the public mind with evil, or too faceless. (Of the non-Cabinet, only Dr. Rice has really made much a public splash, and overall I don't think her robotic approach to uncomfortable questions will help her at all.)

  • Rummy has his rabid fans and detractors, but there's no point arguing about him, he's too old to run four or more years from now;
  • Treasury Secretary Snow is a walking disaster area;
  • Attorney General Ashcroft is branded in the public mind as a snooper and a mindless prude
  • Interior Secretary Gale Norton may not be James Watt, or she may be, but she's no President either way.
  • Commerce Secretary Donald Evans presides but does not impress;
  • Labor Secretary Elaine Chao is of course unpopular with labor;
  • HHS's Tommy Thomspon has ambitions, and probably one of the least risible picks of this bunch, but that first “H” stands for “health”;
  • Homeland Security's Tom Ridge is universally agreed to be in over his head, to have lost bureaucratic turf wars, and generally to be screwing up badly;
  • Agriculture's Ann Veneman ought to be popular in the farmbelt, as the administration has certainly given away the store to Big Ag, but I have no idea how this is actually playing out.
  • HUD's Melquiades Martinz, Transportation's Norman Mineta, Energy's Spencer Abraham, Education's Roderick Paige all share the distinction of not having achieved much of a public persona outside the Beltway. That's not fatal, but it doesn't suggest the executive and political talent that could propel someone from the Cabinet to greater things.

That brings me to Secretary of Veterans' Affairs Anthony Principi. He's a veteran with a real medal. He was a graduate of the Naval Academy, then later Navy JAG. And he can do the straight-talk thing: get a load of this and especially this.

One to watch?

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