Progressives in the Cabinet

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David Lewis offers a very insightful response to my post on the composition of Obama's cabinet.  So insightful, in fact, that I want to re-post and respond here rather than the comments section.

One thing to remember here is that there arguably aren't that many progressives with resumes to easily qualify them for a top spot after 8 years of Bush and 8 years of Clinton. I suspect where you will initially see lots of progressives, if at all, will be in the White House and in the sub-cabinet. The appointments of the science advisor and the NOAA head yesterday were both progressives. You bring them in, you credential them, and then you elevate them later.

Another thing to consider here is that most of the people who have been pre-vetted are Clinton people who tended to be more moderate.

  • The point about the pipeline is good one, but not entirely persuasive since Obama went heavily to the legislative and gubernatorial wells and overwhelmingly chose moderates. There are certainly progressives in the academic and think tank worlds who are sufficiently credentialed.
  • One of the striking things about Obama's appointments is that each time he appointed a progressive he tended to balance him/her with a moderate.  Stephen Chu gets Energy, but Ken Salazar gets Interior.  Hilda Solis gets Labor, but free-trading Ron Kirk will be the U.S. Trade Representative.  But moderates aren't balanced off.  Where is the Joe Stiglitz to the Larry Summers? 
  • I agree that there may be more progessives in the sub-cabinet.  Clearly, the strategy of the Bush adminstration was to get movement conservatives into sub-cabinet positions and then coordinate them from the White House.  But I question whether, Obama could pursue a similar strategy.  After all, such high profile picks are not likely to be so keen to have appointments dictated to them from the White House.
  • I also agree that climate and the environment is one area where the new adminstration appears the most willing to push to the left.

Let me just conclude by saying that I think Obama's cabinet is one incredibly impressive group of individuals.  My only doubt is whether his "Dream Team" can function in such a way that most effectively pursues his agenda.

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I think Larry Summers is balanced with Joe Biden's economic adviser, Jared Bearstein. He will play an integral part in the economic recovery effort.

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