A “New Deal” Model for the Obama Cabinet

11-26-08, 11:21 am

As appointments and stories of appointments to President-elect Obama’s cabinet fill mass media, the interest in Doris Kearns Godwin’s fascinating study, Team of Rivals, which deals with Abraham Lincoln’s Civil War cabinet has been mentioned prominently.

The purpose of these accounts seems to be to encourage President Obama to establish something like a “national unity” cabinet. The idea is to put political rivals like Hillary Clinton prominent positions in major cabinet positions. In today's context, unlike Lincoln’s situation during the Civil War, it would mean having Democrats and perhaps one or two Republicans in the cabinet to the right of the President.

If the country were facing a non-nuclear World War and President Obama had already established the main lines of his domestic policies, this might make some sense. For example, Franklin Roosevelt appointed Henry Stimson, Herbert Hoover’s former Secretary of State, as Secretary of War as the US moved toward World War II. Roosevelt also gave his corporate “rivals” a major incentive to produce for the war effort by establishing a war production program that both guaranteed them high profits and was administered largely by their own executives.

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