Okay, a few thoughts on the Bush cabinet. The more I look at this crew I give Bush pretty high marks. Not on substance but on strategy. Let’s assume what I hope is not the case: that every one of Bush cabinet appointments gets approved. Let’s also assume that Bush nominates James Talent (mentioned earlier in TPM) as his Labor Secretary, which is what I’m hearing.
You have what looks like a pretty moderate cabinet, which in many respects it is. But conservatives get pretty much all the choice slots they wanted. Ashcroft, needless to say, is beloved by hardcore right-wingers. He’s virulently pro-life, no friend of civil rights enforcement, has no concept of the separation of church and state, the list goes on and on.
(An old Newsweek article by Howard Fineman, which I have in front of me, says Ashcroft literally had his head anointed with oil as prescribed in the Old Testament just prior to be being sworn in as senator – I presume religious conservatives will derive some pleasure from this too.)
But it’s more than just Ashcroft.
Don Rumsfeld is a perfectly reasonable choice for Defense Secretary. It’s pretty hard to say he’s not up to the job since he’s already done it once before. And Rumsfeld is known as basically a get-along-go-along moderate in Republican ranks. But â¦ and this is a big ‘but’ … he’s also joe-missile-defense.
He was the head of the commission which a couple years back said that the US was much more vulnerable than commonly thought to attacks from rogue states and thus was in great need of rapid moves toward deploying a missile shield. That report had a decisive effect on the missile defense debate and played a big role in the Clinton administration’s support of a limited missile defense option.
So Rumsfeld looks like a moderate, and in many respects he is. But he’s a big missile defense man. And conservatives LOVE missile defense. So they love him.
Clever, very clever.
(Who’s doing Bush’s thinking for him? Can’t be him, can it?)
Then take Jim Talent, the possible Labor Secretary. Talent looks like an inoffensive enough fellow. But he’s about as anti-labor as they come. Hopefully Democrats will mount a strong fight against him (certainly big labor will insist on it). But unfortunately he probably gets confirmed.
So the upshot of it all is that Bush gets the image of a pretty moderate cabinet (which, as I said, is partly accurate) and yet he gave conservatives a lot – a whole lot – of the plums they wanted.
Sure, they didn’t get a complete wing-nut at HHS. But, hey, you can’t have everything, can you? And besides Tommy Thompson ain’t no Donna Shalala.
P.S. Several editors have been asking me to come up with the unifying principle that pulls together all of Bush’s nominees. I think I’ve got one: people who were just rejected by the voters of Missouri! John Ashcroft lost for Senate last month; Jim Talent lost for governor. It’s almost like a jobs program for Republican losers from the Show-Me-State. And in case you think I’m beating up on Missouri — Back Off! Talking Points was born there.