Monday, November 16, 2020

The Biden Cabinet: Some Basic Rules and a Few Suggestions

 The joy of a new administration, well among many, is that we can play the game of predicting the next cabinet.  I am not sufficiently up on the who's who in the DC zoo or in Biden's team to guess who will win which seat.  I do, however, have strong opinions about who should and should not be in the cabinet.  First some general rules and then some specific recommendations.

To start, it is great to see that Biden's transition teams are quite diverse--more women than men, plenty of people of color.  There are all kinds of good reasons for this--moral ones, efficiency ones, and so forth.  It is not just the right thing to do but also the smart thing to do, as there is much untapped talent that will provide varied perspectives.  There is also this: if you want less sexual harassment, less racism, less trans phobia in the government, modeling that at the top is the way to go.  Again, not only right but smart as a less harassed workforce is likely to be more effective.  

My second guiding rule is this: no retired admirals or generals in the cabinet (my old post from four years ago holds up better than my predictions).  We need to re-assert civilian control of the military, something that the Trump Administration greatly undermined.  While military officers have much expertise, governing is actually not one of them.  Running a large military unit/entity is not the same thing as running a government agency.  It simply is not.  Military officers like to think they are not political (they are), and running an agency is so very political.  Mattis might have been a Warrior Monk but he really didn't do the job well.  We can blame Trump all we want, but Mattis was poorly suited for that job--he acted as he were a super-general and not really as SecDef.  The bright side of having a diverse cabinet is that it decreases the likelihood of generals and admirals being put in top level positions--because it is not a diverse set of folks.  If you want military expertise, just ask the military assistants that are abundant in DoD.  And rely on the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to give advice.  No need to have that replicated in the SecDef or those under the SecDef at the Office of the Secretary of Defense.  

My third guiding rule: limit the hacks and bundlers.  There are lots of experts out there, so best not to stack positions with those who have less expertise and more conflicts of interest.  I am not saying no Wall Street people, but I am saying few of them, please.  And one thing to imitate from the Obama Administration--vet very carefully.  Note how few scandals Obama had.  We need to reassert not just civilian control over the military but propriety at the top.  No corruption, nobody who has any corruption scandals in the past.  The norms need to be rebuilt and reaffirmed.  

Fourth, focus on what we have done well and not so well.  There is a whole kerfuffle about whether Susan Rice should be Secretary of State.  Whether fair or not, she is viewed as being stronger on Europe than on Asia.  From my experience watching Canada mess up in Asia and do fine in Europe, I think Europe is relatively easy, Asia is relatively hard.  So, put into place a team that does Asia well.  The stakes are higher, there are fewer institutions to provide guardrails and standard operating procedures, the alliances are harder to manage (South Korea vs. Japan makes Greece vs. Turkey look silly and easy).  

Fifth, don't sweat what Fox will say.  And probably not what McConnell will say.  Trying to reach across the aisle sells out those who brought you here.  A team of rivals approach only works if the "rivals" operate in good faith, and there is little good faith in the GOP.  John Kasich has already outed himself as someone who can't play well with key constituencies in the Democratic Party.   So, nope.  There are plenty of moderate, technocratic, independent types that one can bring in along with progressive folks.  Lots of talent out there.  Make the best use of it.  

Update:  Oh and no Senators.  The Senate is tough to balance anyway right now, no need to take smart people doing great work where they are at and put them in a spot where they have not much experience (running an agency) and putting the Senate at risk.  

So, that is my starting point. What's yours?

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