Obama’s All-Star Cabinet

Barack Obama’s cabinet choices have been met by gushing reviews.   While many of his choices have come under fire from both the left and the right on ideological grounds, the consensus seems to be that these are among the brightest, most capable people around.

NBC’s Andrea Mitchell referred to them as “all-stars” and “the strongest, smartest people he can find”  while CBS’ Kimberly Dozier goes with “superstar,” adding also that the picks are “bold” and “inspired.” NYT columnist Paul Krugman, recently awarded the Nobel Prize in economics, is positively jubiliant. “Seriously, isn’t it amazing just how impressive the people being named to key positions in the Obama administration seem? Bye-bye hacks and cronies, hello people who actually know what they’re doing.”

Indeed, it’s hard to recall a more impressive group of appointees.  Unless, that is, one can remember all the way back to 2000, when George W. Bush was assembling his team.

Continued at New Atlanticist.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Bithead says:

    I note you pick all the usual dinosaur media suspects. Amasing that you seem suprised that they should be heaping priase on the guy they worked so hard to get elected.

  2. Derrick says:

    James,

    Come on now, I expect better from you. Let’s see Paul O’Neill, a guy who probably had better credentials for Defense than Treasury, albeit a successful run at Alcoa during a commodities boom and zero economic policy experience compared to Geithner. Condolezza might not have been qualified to be Jim Jones’s deputy at the time of her appointment. Don Evans, a Bush crony if there ever was one, is a spec on Bill Richardson’s beard at Commerce. John Ashcroft had little legal experience outside of teaching a few classes compared to Eric Holder a former deputy A.G. And I couldn’t tell you who was Head of the National Economic Council during Bush’s term and I doubt anyone else could either.

    There were obviously a few impressive hires like Powell and Rumsfeld seemed pretty great at the time, but I don’t think that there is much comparison at all between Obama’s early selections and Bush’s 2000 cabinet.

  3. James Joyner says:

    Commerce is almost always the “crony” position in a cabinet and, generally speaking, more of a goodwill ambassador than a member of the economic team. Richardson is, frankly, overqualified for the job. He’d have been a much more natural choice at state.

    I’d also agree that Jones is superbly qualified at NSC; it’s unusual to get a former SACEUR in that post. But Rice was a highly praised choice at the time and had substantial experience as a senior staffer at NSC.

    Ashcroft was a two-term governor and a United States Senator. That’s an impressive background for DOJ.

    The NEC was headed by Glenn Hubbard, followed by Greg Makiw and Ben Bernanke. Not a bad group, I’d say.

  4. Jeffrey W. Baker says:

    Powell: liar’s liar who got his career started by covering up a massacre. Rumsfeld: central Watergate figure. Cheney: Rumsfeld’s deputy during the Watergate years.

    Bush’s team were crooks from the beginning.

  5. Triumph says:

    NBC’s Andrea Mitchell referred to them as “all-stars” and “the strongest, smartest people he can find”

    I would call them the biggest assemblage of yellow-bellied liberals since the Axis of Evil.

  6. Scott Swank says:

    I will score the Bush cabinet based on the way they looked 8 years ago. This means, for example, that I am pretending I do not know that Powell will give his UN speech.

    State: Powell v. Clinton, tie
    Treasury: O’Neil v. Geitner, advantage Obama
    Defense: Rumsfeld v. Gates(?), advantage Bush
    Atty General: Ashcroft v. Holder, Obama
    Interior: Norton v. anyone, Obama
    Commerce: Evans v. Richardson, Obama
    Labor: Chao v. Sebelius(?), Obama
    HHS: Thompson v. Daschle, Obama
    Homeland Security: Ridge v. Napolitano(?), Obama

    NSC: Rice v. Jones, Obama (based primarily on the fact that Rice was seen as a Cold War specialist)
    NEC: Lindsey v. Summers, Obama
    CEA: Glen Hubbard v. Romer, Bush

    So when I look at the 2000/2001 Bush cabinet picks, the only ones that look comparable or stronger than Obama’s are: Rumsfeld, Powell & Glen Hubbard (i.e. not the hack Alan Hubbard from NEC). Now when you look at their respective tenures in these positions the results are nothing but awful.

    Rumsfeld: Iraq war
    Powell: UN speech
    Hubbard: Tax cuts / deficit

    Of course Obama’s team hasn’t yet had a chance to perform either well or poorly…

  7. markm says:

    Treasury: O’Neil v. Geitner, advantage Obama

    Just read a NYT article (probably one of their last pre-bailout), anyhow, it didn’t give me the warm fuzzies about Geitner. My understanding is he is god of economic gods but the article kind of tainted him (and yes…i said taint).

  8. Paul Krugman’s requirement for being “impressive” and “knowing what you’re doing” largely means that you agree with him. And he’s not alone.

    B.F.D.

  9. Scott Swank says:

    Charles — Krugman speaks highly of Glen Hubbard, Greg Mankiw and Andrew Samwick, to name a few with whom he typically disagrees. More content, less snark please.

  10. Greg Ransom says:

    Bernanke offed the “rocket scientists” mathematics justifying the Fed’s unsustainable artificial boom — he’s also widely considered “the smartest man in the room”.

    I call men like Bernanke “idiot savants”. “Brilliant” men good at 3rd rate mathematics, with little understanding of economics (say, from the point of view of Hayek’s economics).

    The “rocket scientists” have destroyed the financial markets and they’ve seriously distorted the relative prices in production and consumption across time.

    Our free economy can’t take much more incompetence from these “well credentialed” rocket scientists.

    If truth be told, these people are “bright” and “capable” the way an idiot savant is bright and capable — to be considered the “smartest man in the room” only if you are making a grave mistake about what sort of understanding is relevant to successful functioning.

  11. Scott Swank says:

    Greg — The bubble goes back to Greenspan. Here’s the first hit I get for “housing bubble graph” from google:

    http://mysite.verizon.net/vzeqrguz/housingbubble/

    Since Bernanke took office on Feb 1, 2006 I’m not sure why you’re blaming the bubble on him.

  12. D S Lamont says:

    Christina Romer’s appointment means that we will have at the Council of Economic Advisers an economist with a background in highly relevant economic history and with moderate Keynesian sympathies – just what we need. It is to be hoped that she understands that one of the key lessons of Keynes is the importance of constructive US leadership in international economic cooperation – including in the international coordination of key economic policies, in building up effective international economic institutions, and in safeguarding free trade. She will be familiar with literature like Donald Moggridge’s biography of Keynes and Donald Markwell’s “John Maynard Keynes and International Relations”, which I think are very helpful in thinking and working our way – nationally and globally – through the present muddle.

  13. tom p says:

    Ashcroft was a two-term governor and a United States Senator. That’s an impressive background for DOJ.

    Ashcroft was also (State) AG of MO for at least one term (I think 2) Mind you, I have no love lost on the guy, but he knew the law, and he respected it.

    ps: I voted for the dead guy.

  14. tom p says:

    Defense: Rumsfeld v. Gates(?), advantage Bush

    Scott: Say WHAT??? Donald “they will welcome us with open arms and pay for our invasion too” Rumsfeld????

    Our military will be, what, decades recovering from the debacle that is Iraq?

    (I agree with most of your other choices)

  15. Scott Swank says:

    Tom — I was trying to go with how Rumsfeld was seen in 2000 when he was named. I was in fact agreeing with your point when I said that his tenure in Defense was miserable, in particular based on the Iraq war. In fact I would say that Rumsfeld, Powell & Glen Hubbard are all worse for their time in the Bush administration, none more deservedly than Rumsfeld.

  16. Bob W says:

    Gates for one is a goofd, contrarian pick. I think it makes perfect sense to keep Secretary Gates in place; Obama is just being pragmatic. Gates has not been an ideologue the past two years. He has demonstrated competence, held subordinates accountable, and proven adept at operating in DC.

    Most importantly of all, keeping a steady hand at DOD gives the new administration cover to focus on an ambitious domestic agenda.

    If Obama is going to spend political capital, he will do so by expanding entitlement programs, especially Health Care, not by appeasing the idealists who see his election as the repudiation of every last second of the past 8 years.

  17. Bob W says:

    Typo, I meant good!

  18. G.A.phillips says:

    I would call them the biggest assemblage of yellow-bellied liberals since the Axis of Evil.

    Im with Triumph!

  19. Dantheman says:

    “I would call them the biggest assemblage of yellow-bellied liberals since the Axis of Evil.

    Im with Triumph!”

    The Insult Comic Dog is trying to be funny. What’s your excuse?

  20. anjin-san says:

    Gates has done a damn good job at Defense, glad to see he is staying on.

  21. markm says:

    Treasury: O’Neil v. Geitner, advantage Obama

    Just read a NYT article (probably one of their last pre-bailout), anyhow, it didn’t give me the warm fuzzies about Geitner. My understanding is he is god of economic gods but the article kind of tainted him (and yes…i said taint).

    OUCH: JAMES PETHOKOUKIS: Timothy Geithner: Obama’s Teflon Treasury Secretary. Pethokoukis has a question: “Mr. Geithner, the job of the New York Fed is to — now I am quoting its own web site — ’supervise and regulate financial institutions in the Second District [Wall Street]. Its primary objective is to maintain safe and competitive U.S. and global banking systems.’ You have been in your current post since 2003 and during that time the U.S. financial system has come close to complete disintegration. Why do you deserve a promotion?”