Posted on December 28, 1992 in Washington Watch
President-elect Bill Clinton has almost completed his first round of cabinet and sub-cabinet appointments. The process has been a fascinating one to watch, and by watching there is a great deal to learn about Clinton’s style of governing.
The most fascinating aspect of the process has been to observe Clinton’s balancing act between a genuine and obvious sensitivity to constituent and special interest groups on the one hand, and his earnest and equally obvious desire to not be seen as bowing to these groups. The very need for the balancing act, of course, is a consequence of the campaign and post-election “continuing campaign” of the President-elect.
It was Clinton, after all, who promised to appoint a cabinet that “looked more like America” than those of his predecessors in the Oval Office. It was widely understood that this pledge would insure a cabinet that reflected the ethnic, gender, and ideological diversity of the country. But after women’s groups publicly challenged Clinton last week by noting that one of his first six cabinet-level appointments went to a woman, Clinton angrily denounced these groups as “bean counters” and in favor of “quotas.”
He will also be respond aggressively to challenges posed by constituent or special interest groups. His outburst this week against women’s groups was a calculated move designed to show the rest of the country that he would not accede to pressure from any one group. It brought back to mind Clinton’s calculated assault on the African American rap singer Sister Souljah during the summer, which helped to establish him favorably in the minds of those concerned that being a Democrat meant being in favor of quotas and acceding to demands of African Americans, particularly the Reverend Jesse Jackson.
The denunciation notwithstanding, however, it is obvious that it is the President-elect who’s counting beans. He is, it appears, deeply committed to balance and diversity in the make-up of his cabinet. Some of Clinton’s trusted friends are upset that, being white men, they haven’t been selected to cabinet posts to which they aspired, and some are even suggesting that the best possible people were not getting the appointments in every instance, and that they were personally losing out to the diversity goal.
But for Clinton, balance and diversity are a means to an important end: they help his continuing efforts to build a political base in support of his agenda and his presidency. By allowing so many different groups to feel included in his Administration, he will engender in them a feeling that they have a stake in his success. While people may be pleased with the overall numbers, part of Clinton’s diversity appointment has been to select people for untraditional roles, such as Ron Brown to Commerce and Reich to the Department of Labor—and this aspect of diversity is an important part of Clinton’s formula that has been overlooked by most observers. And so, even the selection of the cabinet is one more part of his continuing campaign.
Look at the first two sets of appointments. The first day was the economic team of Senator Lloyd Bentsen as Secretary of the Treasury with investment banker Roger Altman as his deputy, Congressman Leon Panetta as Director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) with Alice Rivlin as his deputy, and Wall Streeter Robert Rubin as Assistant to the President for Economic Affairs. Conservatives were pleased.
Panetta and Rivlin are “deficit hawks”, philosophically willing to slash almost every program in the federal budget toward the goal of quickly reducing the deficit. Altman and Rubin are both coming from the financial services sector while Bentsen is trusted by big money, Americans with great wealth. This is a sound team, but has been described by some as more Republican than Democratic in outlook. But the second day of appointments brought a group of traditional Democratic liberals to the cabinet.
Robert Reich, a Harvard professor who has long advocated increased public spending in areas of economic and human infrastructure, “investment” in his parlance, as a means of accelerating economic growth, was Clinton’s choice as Secretary of Labor. If conservative business groups felt comforted by the economic team, organized labor was almost ecstatic over Reich’s selection. Named the same day were University of Wisconsin Chancellor Donna Shalala as Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS), Laura D’Andrea Tyson of Berkeley to Chair the Council of Economic Advisors, and Carol Browner, and environmental Administrator from Florida as Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
Tyson is another liberal thinker, who believes that managed international trade is preferable to completely free trade; and she, like Reich, is an advocate of a national industrial policy. But the appointment of Shalala and Browner, in addition to helping to promote the diversity goal (i.e., liberals and women to balance the moderate men of the first day), also show the very important but quiet influence of Vice President-elect Al Gore and of Hillary Clinton in the cabinet selection process.
Shalala, known for her outspoken stance in favor of enforcing equitable division of educational and other resources along racial and gender lines, might have been a better fit at the Department of Education. And Browner, while certainly a solid choice, lacks the “star” quality than some of the others names that had floated around for EPA Administrator. But health care and the environment are two areas that are very important to the new Administration, and so Shalala, whom Hillary has known and trusted for some years, and Browner, who has a very solid relationship with Al Gore, will be trusted allies in key positions.
This is yet another pattern that emerges from observing Clinton choosing his cabinet: choosing friends in key areas who will be faithful to the President’s program.
Another place where this is demonstrated was in the selection of Thomas “Mack” McLarty as Chief of Staff. McLarty is a person Clinton has known and trusted all his life, and Clinton will count upon him to help establish his consensus-style of governance in the White House. Unlike some previous presidential Chiefs of Staff, McLarty has no specific agenda of his own and no ideological devotion, and can thus be devoted to protecting Bill Clinton and to executing Clinton’s program. He will also serve as a fair broker among the different cabinet-level offices, all of whom will be seeking to make certain Clinton hears their side of every issue.
It is clear from these patterns that Clinton was serious when he said he intended to be his own Economic Czar, his own Health Care Czar, or that Gore would serve as his Environmental Czar. (Bill Clinton, with the quiet advice of Hillary Clinton, Al Gore and a few faithful friends will make key policy decisions in the Clinton Administration.)
Over the next round of appointments, the juggling between liberal and conservative, and among various constituent groups, continued. As Clinton approached his last few appointments, some good people were locked out because they would not add to the cabinet’s diversity, such as retiring Senator Tim Wirth. It has been odd to observe Clinton, a man who campaigned vigorously against quotas, use them in his cabinet selection process—all the while denying that he is doing so.
There are several other lessons to be gleaned from the past few weeks and Clinton’s selections, the first of which is that the President-elect has and will continue to utilize and direct, hands-on approach to governing. One of the more credible rumors in Washington over the past week is that Federal Judge Patricia Wald, who is believed to be Clinton’s first choice for the position of Attorney General, took herself out of the running for the job because she and Clinton could not agree on who her assistants will be—Wald wanted the authority to appoint her own assistants, and Clinton refused to give it up. Attorney general is one of the few positions where there is a likelihood of another woman appointee, but Clinton purportedly chose to pass over Wald rather than give up control over secondary appointments.
The appointments also reflected Clinton’s strong devotion to decision-making by consensus. Back-stabbing tactics, infighting and/or over-aggressive self-promotion doomed the candidacies of several talented individuals who had been important to the Clinton election effort. The most notable among the casualties were Micky Kantor, Clinton’s campaign Chairman who supposedly engaged in enough infighting with fellow campaign workers to alienate Clinton; and Representative Dave McCurdy who was rumored to be one of the favorites to become Secretary of Defense, but pushed for the job too aggressively and alienated a number of transition officials.
The recent economic summit in Little Rock also gave some insights into Clinton’s likely style of governance, particularly into the way that Clinton intends to handle a cabinet that is full of conflicting points of view between liberals and conservatives.
At the summit Clinton put on an impressive performance, unrivalled in recent history. He was both teacher and student. The President-elect showed that he knew how to use the bully-pulpit of his office, lecturing the summit participants in a patient but forceful demeanor; but he also showed a ability to listen intently for hours at a time to the diverse points of view in our society, take notes, ask intelligent and informed questions, engage in open debate, and weigh all the various points of view.
Throughout the summit commentators were struck by Clinton’s enthusiasm for the work. One noted, “Rarely has a U.S. President ever enjoyed listening with such a passion.” In fact, no one could recall a time in U.S. recent U.S. history when a President sat for two days, listened, and engaged in a discussion with attentiveness and obvious glee.
Clinton’s cabinet will give him the same sort of diverse advice that he got during the economic summit: that’s one side of the coin. The other is that he will protect his right, after hearing all their input, to make the final decisions. This facet of his management style was evident at the summit, for when asked by speakers to commit to one course of action over another, Clinton demurred. He reminded the participants that the summit was designed for discussion, and that decisions would be taken later. This will be his pattern over the next four years: he’ll take all the advice offered, never deferring to one advisor over another, and then when he is ready he will decide.
This style of decision-making, too, is part of the continuing campaign. By accepting the advice of diverse groups of advisors, building a base of support, then educating the public, and forging a consensus that can win broad support—this style completely blurs the line between campaigning and governing.
With a cabinet picked more with an eye diversity than to enlisting proven stars, based more on trust than and pragmatic problem solvers, more on ideological diversity and innovation than adhering to one specific policy line, Clinton has two choices in appointing the 200 sub-cabinet level offices that must be filled before inauguration day. There is very little doubt that Clinton will be the one to make the final calls on these appointments.
He could pick independent and highly innovative thinkers to formulate policy on this level; or he could continue in the same style as the first round of cabinet-level appointments, thereby maintaining final decisions and control over policy in the White House.
I believe that Clinton will follow the latter scheme, since that seems most consistent with his personnel policy in Arkansas—where he ran a hands-on government and personally sought to establish consensus on policy—and because it fits his desire to maintain a permanent campaign. Utilizing this approach will not only allow Clinton to govern, but it will serve as a means to build up public support for his policy during the consensus-building process. This, in turn, will help him establish a new Democratic majority coalition to last beyond his years in office.
One must recall that when he was first elected as Governor of Arkansas in 1978, Clinton approached governing with an almost idealistic zeal, and radical ideas designed to shake up Arkansas and help it grow. This governance style, however, alienated Clinton’s support in the electorate and in the state legislature. But after being turned out of office, he returned to the Governor’s mansion two years later with his new style of policy-building by consensus, compromise, a and constantly educating the public. This new-style Clinton was the longest sitting Governor in the country before he resigned earlier this month, having been reelected five times.
Although Clinton can only hold the presidency for two terms (eight years), it appears that he is determined not to separate politics from governing, to build the kind of legacy in the United States that served him well for so long as chief executive in Arkansas.
A Note on the Foreign Policy Team
Clinton’s foreign policy team of eight appointees demonstrated the same pattern as the rest of the process. His team is made up of, for the most part, pragmatic problem-solvers who are also low-key and non-ideological in their approach. Five of the eight served in the Carter Administration and most of them worked together on Clinton’s campaign. All members of the team have Clinton’s trust and can be expected to be faithful interpreters of his Administration’s policy.
Interestingly, pro-Israel groups strongly supported Congressman Les Aspin for Secretary of Defense, and some of the same groups opposed a number of the other appointments, Warren Christopher and Anthony Lake for the posts of secretary of State and National Security Advisor, respectively. On balance, however, no one quite knows what why. This is especially true in the case of Christopher and Lake, whose record of public service is clear: they are fair, balanced, problem-solvers. They will conduct the peace process, and bi-lateral relations with the states of the Middle East, in a manner that serves their country and their President.
What’s interesting to note is that while six of the eight are white men, the two who are not, a woman and an African American, add diversity in an area that has rarely seen any diversity in personnel. And with a twist: Madeleine Albright is the first woman to be the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations since it has been elevated to cabinet level, and Clifton Wharton is the first African American at such a high level in the State Department.
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