What do Obama's announced cabinet appointments say about his administration? In some respects, the surprise is the absence of the oft-promised change. Leaving aside the much mooted, but still-certain possibility of Hillary as Secretary of State, some thoughts:
- The President-elect has nominated Eric Holder to be Attorney General. Much of the coverage has focused on Holder's history with the Marc Rich pardon as the clock expired on the Clinton Administration. Though the outcome was shameful, and Holder's role questionable (he later claimed to regret his role), ultimately the pardon was a Presidential decision in an area where the Executive has absolute discretion. More troubling is Holder's role as Janet Reno's handmaiden in the disgraceful and extra-legal hand-over of Elian Gonzalez to Castro. Yet, Holder's an experienced, and (apart from the Rich pardon) ethical, lawyer. Though some conservatives are outraged--some suggest staging a confirmation battle--the bottom line is that a President has a right to choose his side-boys. Holder's more capable than some prior AGs, a position which historically has been filled by cronies as often as the qualified.
Note: if you were hoping that the incoming Administration's liberal worldview might extended to libertarian policies on illegal drugs or Second Amendment rights, Holder's not your man.
- It's hard to get excited--one way or the other--about Obama's naming former Senator Daschle to head Health and Human Services. Daschle is just another Washington insider: one of several odd choices for a candidate that ran against "the same Washington game with the same Washington players". Indeed, Daschle recently has been advising clients about healthcare, though the transition team insists that Daschle has neither lobbied nor worked on HHS issues. "Nothing to see folks; move along."
In sum, there's nothing new, or post-partisan, about Daschle--which doesn't suggest any subtlety in pushing health-care reform next year.
- I'm not indifferent to the President-elect's choice of Arizona governor Janet Napolitano for Homeland Security. The good news is that she would be succeeded by a Republican (the current Secretary of State) as governor. But the bad news outweighs this political advantage, for several reasons. First, although Napolitano admittedly is knowledgeable about immigration (albeit with shifting and purely political policies), she has no experience in the most crucial aspect of her proposed job--anti-terrorism. Second, her role in the Anita Hill debacle was outrageous and bordered on suborning perjury, which would be a serious ethical violation. Third, as Arizona inches toward a serious budget crisis, moving to Washington would allow Napolitano both to duck responsibility and "stick it" to her Republican successor. My final objection to the nomination: on Thursday, Senator McCain praised Napolitano.
Simply put, it shouldn't be too much to ask that Obama select a Secretary of Homeland Security that knows something about . . . the security of our homeland.
The Washington Post's take:
Some critics are unhappy about the number of Clinton administration veterans -- the derogatory word is retreads -- in the new administration. As we've said before, we have no sympathy for this complaint. The best thing the new administration has going for it in comparison to the last Democratic president is the amount of executive branch experience it has to call on. Mr. Obama's willingness to do that and to bring on board those who supported his chief rival -- indeed, to enlist his chief rival herself -- underscores his own confidence.The WaPo also suggests something I thought impossible--that Napolitano is more pro-illegal immigration than the Bush Administration:
Immigrant advocates, business groups and civil libertarians said that the choice of a two-term governor from a Republican-friendly border state could lead to a reversal of policies that they contend unduly punish illegal immigrants, commerce and Americans' privacy. Agency observers on the right and the left say that her selection appears to reflect a calculation that she could do so without appearing weak on terrorism.Finally, the Wall Street Journal unearths a January 2002 interview with AG nominee Eric Holder where he opines as to the status of captured terrorists:
It seems to me that given the way in which they have conducted themselves, however, that they are not, in fact, people entitled to the protection of the Geneva Convention. They are not prisoners of war. If, for instance, Mohamed Atta had survived the attack on the World Trade Center, would we now be calling him a prisoner of war? I think not. Should Zacarias Moussaoui be called a prisoner of war? Again, I think not.