The Cabinet

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That Obama is set to nominate so many former legislators to his Cabinet and senior White House staff provides a rare opportunity for comparing the ideological make-up of the new administration to that of Congress.

With the nomination of Hilda Solis to be Labor Secretary and Ray LaHood to be Transportation Secretary, there will be six former House and Senate members in the cabinet (including Clinton, Daschle, Salazar, and Richardson).  Throw in Obama himself, Joe Biden, and Rahm Emanuel, we have a pretty good sample of former legislators to compare to the current composition House and Senate Democratic caucuses.

 

To gauge the differences between the administration and Congressional democrats, I use Keith Poole's "common space" measurement of conservatism.  This measure is an adjustment of DW-NOMINATE scores designed to facilitate comparison of the House and Senate.  Each legislator is given a single conservatism score for her entire career ranging from around -1 (very liberal) to 1 (very conservative).  One drawback is that these scores are only available up through the 109th Congress (2005-2006). So I can only compare the cabinet to the Democratic caucuses of that term.  Another is that Bill Richardson's score more than a decade old (but the rest continued to serve through the 110th Congress).

 

The following table list the conservatism scores for the administration as well as the House and Senate leaders and the medians of the caucuses.

 

Pelosi

-.455

Solis

-.451

Clinton

-.359

Obama

-.343

House Democratic Median

-.329

Biden

-.326

Emanuel

-.323

Senate Democratic Median

-.316

Daschle

-.278

Richardson

-.255

Reid

-.251

Salazar

-.220

LaHood

  .265

 

The evidence is pretty strong that the administration lies considerably to the right of the Democrats in the House, but is reasonably representative of Senate Democrats.  But only Solis comes from the most liberal wing of the party.  The center of the party is well represented in powerful positions by the president, vice-president, secretary of state, and WH chief of staff while the lower cabinet is filled with more moderate Democrats and a Republican.  No wonder Nancy Pelosi is worried about being triangulated.

 

Of course, maybe the table is misleading because it only includes cabinet-designates who served in Congress. Maybe liberals and progressives are better represented in the other positions.  Doubtful.  Gates is a Republican.  Teachers unions were disappointed with Duncan.  Geitner is a Robert Rubin/Larry Summers protégé.  Napolitano and Vilsack are red state governors.  Shinseki is a hero to the left, but probably not of the left.  Donovan appears to be a centrist who worked in both the Clinton and Bloomberg administrations.  Holder is a corporate lawyer.  So think I that leaves Stephen Chu as the only remaining cabinet member with views consonant with the progressive wing of the Democratic party.

 

There has been a fair amount of grumbling just below the surface about how poorly progressives have fared. Rick Warren's invitation didn't help matters.  It will be interesting to see how long Obama can keep the lid on it before it boils over. 

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P.S. Politico has a nice story with the same upshot (though with actual reporting!) http://www.politico.com/news/stories/1208/16734.html

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.

I don't think Iowa is such a red state anymore. Certainly not on par with Arizona.

Chris Bowers blogged this a few days ago, with a bit less detail but with similar conclusions. It's probably worth acknowledging this.

Thanks for compiling this analysis, it will be useful in talking and strategizing with grassroots groups trying to figure out how to deal with the Obama administration

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