Friday, July 16, 2004

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Bruce Bartlett beats me to the punch

Bruce Bartlett's latest column opens with a suggestion that I've had in the back of my head for some time:

I have long believed that presidential challengers would help themselves by announcing at least some of their top appointments before the election. After all, we already know the incumbent's appointees. I think it would help many voters make up their minds and swing a few if they had a better idea of how a candidate's actions would match his words.

In Europe, where parliamentary systems predominate, this sort of thing is taken for granted. Opposition parties always have "shadow cabinets," where designated people target particular departments for special attention. They are assumed to be given those portfolios should their party gain a majority, and often are.

Not only does this give voters much greater knowledge of what to expect should the opposition gain control, it gives valuable experience and training to those in line to become ministers in a new government. And shadow cabinets make it easier to create coalitions and help assuage the fears of those wary of changing horses in the middle of a stream.

I vaguely recall that Bob Dole contemplated but rejected this strategy back in 1996.

I can see downsides to this strategy -- in particular, such an announcement increases the number of official mouthpieces -- which increases the likelihood of one of them committing a gaffe/revealing a personal scandal that saps time and energy from Kerry.

However, such a gambit could make a transition much easier, in that it provides a public vetting for key cabinet officials, and might reverse a disturbing trend of lengthier and lengthier confirmation ordeals.

Do read the rest of Bartlett's column, as he posits the composition of Kerry's economic team.

UPDATE: Some have suggested that an opposition candidate can't propose a shadow cabinet, because it's illegal to offer anyone a position prior to election. It strikes me that there are so many ways around that law that it's not much of an impediment. Just name someone as the "official party spokesman" for the issue, for example.

Also, I wouldn't propose naming a complete shadow cabinet -- perhaps just the "power ministries" -- State, Defense, Treasury, Justice, and now DHS.

ANOTHER UPDATE: More on this from Matthew Yglesias, Tom Grey, and Jacob Levy.

posted by Dan on 07.16.04 at 10:07 AM


Prediction: If Kerry wins, he appoints McCain as Secretary of Defense. This does two things:

1. Immediately shores up his national security credentials
2. Allows Democratic AZ Governor Napolitano to appoint a Democrat in his place for the Senate.

posted by: Independent George on 07.16.04 at 10:07 AM [permalink]

I think doing this is technically illegal -- a presidential candidate can't promise someone a job. (The concerns which underlie that rule are to my eyes barely if ever implicated at the Cabinet level, but it's still the rule.)

posted by: alkali on 07.16.04 at 10:07 AM [permalink]

As much as I respect and admire John McCain, I don't see him being Kerry's Secretary of Defense -- at least, not while Sam Nunn is available.

posted by: Scott Forbes on 07.16.04 at 10:07 AM [permalink]

The idea of doing something here because it is common practice in Europe does not appeal to me.

I would prefer a more limited and practical step, to reduce the time it takes for a new administration to get staffed and up to speed. Major candidates should be allowed to submit lists of people who could be considered for major Cabinet and sub-Cabinet appointments to the FBI and other appropriate agencies six months or so before the election, to permit much of the clearance procedures needed for appointees to high office to be done in at least some cases in a timely manner.

There are disadvantages to this idea, including the expansion in the number of people who would have to be cleared (because both candidates would be submitting lists of people who might be appointed, instead of one President elect announcing the names of people who will be appointed. Under the present system, though, staffing a new administration is not complete until well after its first term begins, and new administrations have been embarrassed when appointments that had not been thought through before the campaign ended were made in haste.

posted by: Zathras on 07.16.04 at 10:07 AM [permalink]

The confirmation process painful, but it takes place after you've won. If a challenger had to rescind his VP choice, it would imperil his candidacy. Withdrawing a presumptive cabinet nomination would do less damage, but imagine Clinton's initial choices being revealed before the 1992 election: Death by a thousand cuts.

The inevitable response would be to choose pre-election cabinet members in much the same way VP's are chosen today: Don't increase your target profile, don't increase your negatives. A group so mainstream as to guarantee it will do nothing in office.

Perhaps a couple key positions that are truly inspired choices could be telegraphed. (Was this done with Powell for SecState in 2000? I feel some deja vu about the idea that McCain might be named SecDef regardless of who wins.)

posted by: Bob Pence on 07.16.04 at 10:07 AM [permalink]

Powell's choice was definitely broadcast before the election. Maybe COndi RIce as well. Perhaps Bush thought that he could use Powell's popularity to get moderates (which might have worked) or African Americans in general (which didn't work).

The UK has a shadow cabinet, and it may be a good idea for the US as well to strongly hint at a shadow cabinet.

posted by: erg on 07.16.04 at 10:07 AM [permalink]

You know, I have a great deal of respect for McCain's military service, as anyone should.

But .. I think his military service (and the fact that he's a maverick, occasionally supporting Democratic positions) makes the press and other politicans (both Demos and Repubs) give him a bit of a pass on serious issues. Repubs ignore his nasty comments about post-war Iraq. Dems try to flirt with him for VP post.

For one, there is is his well known involvement with the Keating 5. There are other scandals in his past as well, and other verbal gaffes. Would a Democrat have considerd any other republiacn who said that Chelsea was ugly because Janet Reno was her father ?

So, no McCain as SecDef

I would go with Chuck Hagel myself for Kerry as SecDef. A Rubineseque Democrat as Sec Treasry . Sec. State -- Holbrooke ? An Arican American and a Hispanic in the cabinet, a couple of women.

Gephardt coule be Sec Interior or Sec Labor as payback. [ Gephardt as Sec. Labor would frightem business, but a very pro-bizness Sec Commerce and Sec Treasurt might reassure them].

If Nader wasn't such a wacko, I would suggest that Kerry drop some subtle hints to Nader that he could get EPA head position in a Kerry admin. But that would drive business totally nuts, so its not worth it for political reasons only.

posted by: erg on 07.16.04 at 10:07 AM [permalink]

A good idea, but a loser -- to the attack dog politics of Perfection. Any real choice has some downside. Today, the downside is publicized, and analyzed, and additionally hypothesized into a maximum worst case scenario. Any real choice for any position will result in more negative publicity.

Even you are falling for this junk. You don't like Bush secrecy, pork spending, and social issues. I don't like the first two either (I do like the FMA and I'm against abortion).

But that stuff really doesn't matter so much; there's not that much difference. The main two-part issue is: (a) will Iran get nukes in the next four years? (b) will terrorists use nukes in the next four years?

If Kerry gets elected, no matter what he says, the mullahs will increase their belief that Iran will be allowed to develop nukes. TRY writing your own probabilites. Mine:
Iran gets nukes in the next 4 years --
Bush - 10%
Kerry - 40% (recently increased from 30%).

Terrorists get nukes within 4 years of Iran getting nukes, 50% (either; maybe even a bit more likely if Bush, say 60%).

There's no correct answer here, only Bayesian a priori probability as an information measure. What do you really think? I challenge you to write it.

posted by: Tom Grey on 07.16.04 at 10:07 AM [permalink]

Pakistan has had nukes for at least 15 years, in a country riddled with Taliban sympathizers, Al Qaeda operatives and a military that is loaded with Islamic radicals. The route to terrorists acquiring nukes is probably far more likely to be via Pakistan than Iran ..

posted by: Mike on 07.16.04 at 10:07 AM [permalink]

If Kerry gets elected, no matter what he says, the mullahs will increase their belief that Iran will be allowed to develop nukes.

Eh? Why?

posted by: blah on 07.16.04 at 10:07 AM [permalink]

This would drastically increase the number of targets for attack. Every potential nominee would be subjected to all sorts of distorted ads about his or her record on this or that.

This has to be losing strategy for a challenger.

posted by: Bernard Yomtov on 07.16.04 at 10:07 AM [permalink]

Shadow cabinet sounds like a good idea.

Also, think the U.S. campaign season is way too long and too much money spent on campaigns and conventions(partying).

posted by: Alex on 07.16.04 at 10:07 AM [permalink]

I think it is a good idea. Maybe not an entire cabinet as I am sure some person mentined for Sec. of Agriculture said something 15 years ago that will be an issue for a couple of days and distract from the business of focusing on who is better suited to run the nation.

But announcing a few key positions seems like a good idea.

And while we are talking about this, maybe Bush should do the same. It is generally accepted that Powell will leave should Bush be elected. Who will replace him? Who will be the next Director of Central Intelligence? Given that Powell has been the most respected person in the adminstration internationally it is pretty important to know how Bush is thinking about replacing him.

posted by: Rich on 07.16.04 at 10:07 AM [permalink]

There are a couple of problems with this idea. Firstly, potential cabinet members must be vetted, an expensive process usually done by the FBI. This is to uncover not only major problems but also lesser ones such as illegal immigrant nannies or other staff. Should the U.S. government pay for this? Most candidates have to commit all their available funds for election expenses: ads, travel, polls, etc. Should the government pay this for candidates like Nader and the Liberatarian party candidate?
Secondly, anyone mentioned would by subjected to constant attack by the Republican Party and it's apparatchiks. Would people be willing to undergo this unless they were guaranteed the post?

posted by: Mike on 07.16.04 at 10:07 AM [permalink]

Kerry, or any challenger, doesn't need to actually name anyone. But he should hold meetings with a group of Democratic party 'names' who would be candidates for key cabinet posts. This is what Bush did last time around with all those 'tutorial' with Rice, Powell, Cheney, et. al. in Texas. The press eats it up. It also would create the impression that you have a deep bench that might look a whole lot better to the public compared to Bush's team. For example, Kerry brings a group of foreign policy/defense officials out to Nantucket for a closed door session...Albright, Holbrooke, Berger, Wes Clark, Joe Biden, maybe Zinni, etc. It would create the impression (i) that these guys will be ready to hit the ground running on Iraq and terror, and (ii) it gets people thinking 'hey, these guys are all pretty competent. maybe we'd be better off with them running the show instead of Cheney, Wolfowitz and Rumsfeld.'

posted by: Marco on 07.16.04 at 10:07 AM [permalink]

This, I like. It gets into all sorts of executive / legislative branch blurs that UK shadow cabinet folks don't deal with, I guess for the most part because they're already MP's. U.S. voters are voting on cultural issues now. This might begin to make campaigns issue-based again since shadow-spokespeople would articulate policy differences in their areas of policy interest. It would also allow members of the non-incumbent's party to speak for themselves, & reach the public's consciousness over a period of years rather than at a frantic pace during the primary season. It might also allow a clear challenger to emerge prior to primary season & therefore allow a party to nominate without the bloodletting & theater of the primaries (thus avoiding the awkward reruns of what Kerry said about Edwards &c...)

posted by: jrfj44 on 07.16.04 at 10:07 AM [permalink]

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