The Fantasy Cabinet Game

(By Mark Bridger, cross-posted at ThatMansScope)

In the NYTimes recently, columnist Joe Nocera discussed his choices for Obama’s new cabinet. Below is a summary of his choices for some of these posts:

TREASURY:     Tim Geitner → Sheila Bair
STATE:              Hillary Clinton → Bill Clinton
ATTY.GEN:       Eric Holder → Ken Feinberg
DEFENSE:        Leon Panetta → David Petraeus
ENERGY:         Steven Chu → Fred Krupp
EDUCATION:  Arne Duncan → Randi Weingarten (AFT)
S.E.C.:              Mary Schapiro/Elisse B. Walter → Sean Berkowitz

For the record, here are the remaining ones: AGRI, COMMERCE, HLTH&HUM. SERV., HOMELAND SEC., H.U.D., INTERIOR, LABOR, TRANSP., VETERANS SERV.

I am in favor of Sheila Bair for Treasury.  She is a Republican who is a firm believer in controls over Wall St and who just finished a 5-year term as chair of the F.D.I.C. to which she was appointed by George Bush. Since Elizabeth Warren is currently occupied as Senator from Massachusetts, Bair is my first choice.

Bill Clinton as Secretary of State is not a great idea. It is unclear how interested he would be in the day-to-day functioning of the office, or how closely he could work with Obama. I think he might be better as special envoy to the Middle East. At the moment Susan Rice seems to be Obama’s choice for State, and I don’t see anything objectionable in her filling the role; also, Republican opposition to her seems to be moderating.

I am not that happy with Eric Holder who seems to embrace the disastrous “War on Drugs” (but then, so does the President). He also didn’t go out of his way to prosecute central figures in the 2008 economic collapse. Ken Feinberg is really a cipher on issues other than disbursing money to victims of 9-11 and the BP oil spill. I have no special knowledge of other deserving nominees.

David Petraeus for Defense seems quixotic. (If we were going to install well-known philanderers in the cabinet, I would have proposed Eliot Spitzer for Attorney General — but see below.) In any case, it is my understanding that someone who served so recently in the military is ineligible to be Secretary of Defense. Also, Panetta seems to have done a decent job so far.

I for one think that Steven Chu has done a fine job in Energy, so unless he wants out I think he should continue. It never hurts to have someone who actually knows some science in this position. Fred Krupp, as head of the Environmental Defense Fund has some enviro-cred, but he is also a big proponent of fracking, a technology whose dangers have not been investigated nearly enough.

For Education I think that the president of the American Federation of Teachers is too provocative, even if she is a very good person (which she seems to be): I doubt that she could be confirmed. Fortunately, Obama could put forward Diane Ravitch who has been a very pointed and knowledgeable critic of just about everyone and everything in the field. For a long time she was just about the only really thoughtful voice on the right in matters educational. Recently she has changed her mind about many things and has become a very progressive voice. I have read a lot of her essays and found them quite impressive.

For S.E.C. I think that Eliot Spitzer would probably be the best choice if he can overcome the fallout of his sex scandal. Sean Berkowitz, though, is not a bad choice: he was one of the major prosecutors in the Enron case, who helped to nail Jeff Skilling and Ken Lay. He could arguably be better as AG than Ken Feinberg.

Anyway, I’d like to invite readers of this blog to make a case for their favorites for any of these cabinet positions (and SEC). Please use the “Comments” section directly below. I’ll collect those that seem most convincing and devote at least one blog to them.

As we “go to press”: Sarah B. reminds us not to forget former senator Russ Feingold (AG?) and former Sec. of Labor Robert Reich (Council of Economic Advisors?). SB has named this the “The Fantasy Cabinet Game”.

Which reminds me of the other “good” Bob: Bob Kuttner (and not the “bad” Bob: Rubin). He should also be on the Council of Economic Advisers.

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