Many people are talking about what VP choices await Barack Obama if he becomes President and certainly, there are some great ones out there. But let's look one step further to Obama's Cabinet and whom he would put in charge of different areas of our country. These are just ideas, meant to foster debate and I hope that whether you agree or disagree, you'll think about the role that each of these positions means for our country, both short term and long term.
First and most important, let's put our environment into the most capable hands:
Secretary of the Interior: Al Gore
Though he recently denied interest in an Obama Cabinet position, handing Al Gore the environment of the US (provided he'd take it) would give him unprecedented freedom to preserve, protect and evolve our land and the conservation of it. Acquiring and conserving new lands, safeguarding our waterways and saving endangered species from their doom. Involve him in the post-Kyoto world and let us lead by example with environmental leadership that can keep America beautiful for generations to come.
Secretary of Veterans Affairs: John McCain
Provided he loses in his bid for the White House, reach out to McCain to help restore our Veterans treatment and care, which has been long in need of fixing. What better way to show military and non-military families that we take care of our own than putting the former POW and Veterans champion in a leadership position at the VA? McCain the patriot can make sure that every single other military patriot will be treated with respect, dignity and receive timely and affordable (or free) health care.
Secretary of Labor: John Edwards
This champion of the working class can be the most labor-friendly Sec of Labor in a long time. It would be great to have a strong and trusted leader to deal with the struggles of workers, whether it be downsized or outsourced jobs, health insurance or retraining programs to help wean our workforce off of dying industries and prepare them for industries where we most need them (hello Green Collar boom!). He could be effective with the Unions and bring Big Industry into compliance with modern standards of a living wage, retirement plans and base health care. Some feel he is to far to the left but after the hard right corporate-friendly years under Bush, the pendulum needs to swing back for balance. Edwards is certainly competent and has a good reputation with the working class. If not Secretary of Labor, Edwards could make a strong Attorney General as well.
Secretary of Energy: Bill Richardson
He did it before, let him do it again, but with the benefit of all he's learned since plus the Greenest President ever (we hope). According to the Apollo Alliance, investment in a clean and efficient economy would "lead to over 3 million new green-collar jobs, stimulate $1.4 trillion in new GDP, add billions in personal income and retail sales, produce $284 billion in net energy savings, all while generating sufficient returns to the U.S. treasury to pay for itself over ten years." (Which happens to be the length of time that Gore is recommending.) Add to that some power over energy companies (rather than secret planning meetings with them) and a chance to move American not just away from it's dependence on foreign oil, but on oil altogether. Richardson could reach out to the growing Hispanic population to make them more aware and effective than ever in caring about and conserving energy. Note: Richardson could also be very effective back in his role as UN Ambassador. However, Energy is HUGE on our National Agenda and needs a strong and experienced Secretary with the vision and guts to make the big changes. Alternate: maybe Gore would like to work this department instead? Then perhaps Richardson could become VP and help bring the Latin vote to the table with Obama.
Secretary of Defense: Chuck Hagel
Hagel is a member of four Senate committees: Foreign Relations; Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs; Intelligence and Rules. Hagel served in Vietnam with his brother Tom in 1968. They served side by side as infantry squad leaders with the U.S. Army's 9th Infantry Division and Hagel earned many military decorations and honors, including two Purple Hearts. He is a life member of the American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars, Vietnam Veterans of America, Disabled American Veterans, and the Military Order of the Purple Heart. He is certainly qualified and has shown to be fair-minded and bipartisan. Plus he's Republican, which would show Obama's bipartisan reach. Alternate: How about Hilary Clinton? That could be a very interesting position for her though she may be most effective in her current job or perhaps as Senate Majority Leader.
Secretary of Education: Chris Dodd
Dodd's career has consistently centered on educational reform and would be a great leader for educating our next generations. Dodd is currently a senior member of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee and the Chairman of its Children and Families Subcommittee. (He's also Chairman of the Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee, as well as Chairman of the Foreign Relations Subcommittee on Western Hemisphere, Peace Corps, and Narcotics.) He formed the first children's caucus in the Senate and has been a leader in the movement to reform No Child Left Behind. Need more reasons? Dodd is the Founder and Chair of the bipartisan Senate Afterschool Caucus and was honored as National Head Start "Senator of the Decade" for his work expanding and improving the Head Start program. Plus he spent eight years fighting to enact the Family and Medical Leave Act. He'd be a great choice for this position. Alternate: Hilary Clinton could also be great in this position and could make some huge changes in the way we educate our children. That means ditching the reviled No Child Left Behind and ending the War on Science, which Hilary has often talked about. Preparing our children for the 21st century world will mean overhauling the purpose and productivity of our Dept of Education and helping prepare the next generation to make America much more competitive in the global marketplace. Dodd or Clinton would be excellent in this role.
Dept. of Health and Human Services: Hilary Clinton
Clinton could be a great choice here, considering her experience and passion in reforming health care in America. This might be low on the positions she'd consider but would be a great use of her knowledge and passion with health care and the general health of all Americans. Anyone who knows about Hilary knows about her long-time work trying to overhaul Health Care and there should be no doubt that she'd be a champion for all Americans who so desperately need improved and cost-effective health coverage, especially the nations children.
Secretary of Homeland Security: Lee Hamilton
Hamilton served as co-chair of the Iraq Study Group, a forward looking, bi-partisan assessment of the situation in Iraq. He served as Vice-Chair of the 9/11 Commission and co-chaired the 9/11 Public Discourse Project established to monitor implementation of the Commission's recommendations. He is currently a member of the President's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board, the President's Homeland Security Advisory Council, the FBI Director's Advisory Board, the CIA Director's Economic Intelligence Advisory Panel, the Defense Secretary's National Security Study Group, and the US Department of Homeland Security Task Force on Preventing the Entry of Weapons of Mass Effect on American Soil. Hamilton is well qualified for this position and hopefully wouldn't suffer from the incompetence, nepotism and knee-jerk reactions that have plagued previous and current Secretaries of Homeland Security. The fact that he is Republican would also show Obama's bi-partisan reach.
Attorney General: Patrick Fitzgerald
The US Atty for N. District of Illinois who presided over the Valerie Plame trial has shown solid ability and judgment throughout his career. Obama also could pick James B. Comey, Deputy Attorney General under Ashcroft. In August 2005, Comey left the DOJ and he became General Counsel and Senior Vice President of Lockheed Martin, which could be somewhat conflicting with escaping the Media-Industrial-Military Complex. However, he showed he wasn't Bush's patsy when he was in DOJ and could be worth considering based on experience. Alternate: I have heard John Edwards mentioned for this position, which would be interesting. Edwards could be effective in the role and certainly trustworthier than the current and previous AGs under Bush.
Secretary of Agriculture: Patrick Leahy
Leahy is Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee and is a senior member of the Agriculture and Appropriations Committees. The 1994 Leahy-Lugar bill reorganized the U.S. Department of Agriculture by closing 1100 offices and saving more than $2 billion. Leahy also is the father of the national organic standards and labeling program, which took effect in October 2002. He'd be a solid choice for this position. Alternate: Dick Lugar.
Secretary of State: Joe Biden
This is a big position but Biden could be great at it. He is the Chairman of the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations and has served as Chairman of the U.S. Senate Committee on the Judiciary, plus the Subcommittee on Human Rights and the Law, Subcommittee on Immigration Border Security and Citizenship and Subcommittee on Technology Terrorism and Homeland Security. He could be very effective in this role, though just about anyone will be better than Bolton. Alternates: Bill Richardson? John Kerry? Bill Clinton?
Secretary of the Treasury: Well, the rebel in me says put Ron Paul in there and let the Libertarian loose. His grasp of economic policy is deep and strong and he has a lot of ideas that could help transform the way we handle our fiscal policy. Since he would be implementing President Obama's policies, he would not be able to make some of the more radical changes that he would like, but he could be very effective in helping formulate and recommend economic, financial, tax, and fiscal policies and help steer us out of debt as a nation. Plus he brings his core base and a lot of Libertarians to the table. Could be an interesting choice.
Secretary of Housing and Development: Considering the many crises plaguing our housing market, this position will become more crucial to help find solutions to help homeowners out of the mortgage debacle. Chris Dodd could be effective here considering his experience as Chairman of the Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee, but could be better suited to Education. Either way, the person in this position will have a very full plate in the coming years.
That leaves two positions: Commerce & Transportation. Though I don't have a clear idea of someone for Commerce, perhaps Ralph Nader could be Secretary of Transportation? The man who wrote Unsafe at Any Speed and helped pass the 1966 National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act to establish the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration could be an interesting choice for this position, though he does come with some residual emotional baggage from the 2000 election debacle. However, he brings his own movement a la Ron Paul and could see this position as an opportunity to continue the wholly positive work he's done with the NGO Public Citizen on behalf of the American consumer. Make roads and bridges safer, work on innovative ways to solve & avoid gridlock and affect the direction and safety of vehicle design in conjunction with us getting off of oil and on to alternative fuels. Maybe this isn't the "dream job" of president but certainly a way to affect positive change in this country. Isn't that what this Obama 'movement' is all about? It is helpful to keep in mind that Nader's Public Citizen helped usher in the Safe Drinking Water Act, the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and Consumer Product Safety Commission. If not Transportation, couldn't there be a use for such passionate consumer advocacy somewhere in the Obama Administration?
For good measure, let's finally add an official Department of Peace and make Dennis Kucinich Secretary of Peace. Create a new wave of diplomats (and diplomacy) and find ways to build bridges in the world, both literally and figuratively. This will have the added benefit of encouraging other countries to create their own Dept of Peace, which is a positive step towards creating a peaceful network to connect and relate. Besides some badly needed diplomacy, this department could also connect with other countries for peaceful activities such as music, dance and art to both share our wealth of artists and promote collaborations between artists from different countries. An Iranian-American symphony or a Palestinian-Israeli ballet could do wonders for thawing icy relations. Who knows, maybe one day we'll see an Israeli-Iranian art exhibit? Dream on, people!
Please do pass this list around and discuss your own choices and ideas for these positions. Instead of a bunch of people you can't identify (quick -- name six members of Bush's cabinet!) some bigger names in these positions could bring vision and transparency to their work. Let's start this discussion and spread it around!
Just in case you're not up on your Cabinet positions, here is a handy guide to what each position entails:
If you check the records of the people who currently hold these jobs, you'll find that most of them have a corporate background that precludes objectivity. In case you're not up on your Bush Cabinet members and their private sector ties, here's a quick recap:
Newly installed HUD Secretary Steve Preston was Executive VP (and once CFO) of The ServiceMaster Company, plus a senior VP and treasurer of First Data Corporation and an investment banker at Lehman Brothers. (Previous HUD Secreatary Alphonso Jackson served as President of American Electric Power-TEXAS, a $13 billion utility company located in Austin, Texas).
Sec of Commerce Carlos Gutierrez was the former chairman of the board and chief executive officer of Kellogg Company.
Sec of Agriculture Ed Schafer was an executive with the Gold Seal Company in Bismarck, a successful marketer of nationally known consumer products such as "Mr. Bubble" bubble bath, "Glass Wax" glass cleaner and "Snowy Bleach."
Sec of Labor Elaine Chao was Vice President of Syndications at BankAmerica Capital Markets Group and a banker with Citicorp, as well as a Distinguished Fellow at The Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank.
Sec of the Treasury Henry Paulson was Chairman and CEO of Goldman Sachs.
Secretary of Veterans Affairs James Peake served as a member of the Board of Directors for QTC, one of the largest private providers of government-outsourced occupational health and disability examination services in the nation.
Sec of Transportation Mary Peters was national director for transportation policy and consulting at HDR, Inc., a major engineering firm. (She was responsible for formulating public policy initiatives for the firm's transportation program.)
Sec of Health and Human Services Michael Leavitt was president and CEO of a regional insurance firm, establishing it as one of the top insurance brokers in America. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates served as Chairman of the Independent Trustees of The Fidelity Funds, the nation's largest mutual fund company, and on the board of directors of NACCO Industries, Inc., Brinker International, Inc. and Parker Drilling Company, Inc.
Sec of Energy Samuel Bodman worked in the financial sector as Technical Director of the American Research and Development Corporation, a pioneer venture capital firm, and was named President and COO of Fidelity Investments and a Director of the Fidelity Group of Mutual Funds. He also joined Cabot Corporation, a Boston-based Fortune 300 company with global business activities in specialty chemicals and materials, where he served as Chairman, CEO, and a Director. Over the years, he has been a Director of many other publicly owned corporations. Even Atty General Michael Mukasey and Sec of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff both worked for big private law firms.
But lastly, that vixen Condi Rice has a corporate history that most people don't realize: She was on the boards of directors for the Chevron Corporation, the Charles Schwab Corporation, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, the University of Notre Dame, the International Advisory Council of J.P. Morgan and the Transamerica Corporation. (Considering that there is an oil tanker named after her, she has remained very popular with her corporate concerns.)
This list paints a larger picture of the corporate connections to our government and should make us all wary of who inhabits these positions. Though there are many qualified people who have experience in various corporations, it would be nice to not have such a feeling of conflicting interests among Cabinet members in the future.
Finally -- just for good measure -- think about who might populate the following offices/councils and how they might positively (or negatively) affect the direction of our country:
EXECUTIVE OFFICE OF THE PRESIDENT
Council of Economic Advisors
Council on Environmental Quality
National Security Council
Office of Administration
Office of Management and Budget
Office of National Drug Control Policy
Office of Science & Technology Policy
President's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board
US Trade Representative
White House Office
THE WHITE HOUSE OFFICE
Domestic Policy Council
Homeland Security Council
National Economic Council
Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives
Office of the First Lady
Office of National AIDS Policy
Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board
USA Freedom Corps
White House Fellows Office
White House Military Office
Good luck to you, to us and to our future!