The Rose Garden: Kerry Is Just One in the Hill’s ‘Shadow’ Cabinet

Posted October 23, 2009 at 6:03pm

Yes, yes, it was for the good of the country, the struggle against the Taliban and the cause of democracy in, well, Afghanistan. We all know that Sen. John Kerry’s (D-Mass.) success in persuading a grumbling, uncompliant Afghan President Hamid Karzai to reverse himself and submit to a runoff election was no more than a selfless effort to pitch in.

[IMGCAP(1)]But let’s just suppose that Kerry’s Talleyrand turn had a whiff of something else to it. Let’s just suppose that Kerry’s recitation of his résumé on the White House driveway after reporting back to President Barack Obama was more than a random trip down memory lane.

Let’s be crass and posit that somewhere in the recesses of Kerry’s mind, perhaps deep in his subconscious, maybe even unknown to him — but understood by you and me — he was just a little bit auditioning for the job of secretary of State.

“You know, it’s not the first time that I’ve been engaged,— Kerry reminisced. “I’ve been 26 years in the Foreign Relations Committee. I negotiated at great length as chairman of the Select Committee on POW/MIA, with Vietnam, eventually leading to our normalization. I’ve been deeply involved in global climate change negotiations in Kyoto and elsewhere. And I’ve been deeply involved in Central American war with the Contras and other things, as well as negotiating in Massachusetts.—

He can even negotiate in Massachusetts! If this were a job application — which it was not, but if it were — it wouldn’t be a bad idea. The average tenure of Cabinet secretaries is less than three years. White House advisers? Maybe 18 months. Obama could soon be in the market for some new help. And having plucked no less than a half-dozen of his most senior advisers from Congress, Capitol Hill is Obama’s Monster.com.

Who else from the legislature would be suitable for employment in the executive branch? Here are some ideas (though, as far as we know, these people love their jobs, wouldn’t dream of abandoning their constituents and haven’t given a thought to the future — living only meal to meal):

Secretary of Defense: Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.). This would be the ultimate gesture, the unprecedented move by the unprecedented president. Obama would complete his “team of rivals— and make Abraham Lincoln’s effort look half-baked. Such a choice presupposes, though, that Obama decides on an aggressive war strategy in Afghanistan that McCain could get behind with some relish. But this seems increasingly likely.

The selection would make Republicans partially responsible for the war. It would allow McCain to supersede the reach of his father — the late four-star Adm. John S. McCain Jr. — on the chain of command and give him something new to do. But of course, he’d have to take orders from “that one.—

White House Chief of Staff: Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.). Durbin is Obama’s official Senate BFF, home-state compadre and ideological soulmate. Why shouldn’t the two of them be running the world together? After a year or two of Rahm Emanuel, a shell-shocked White House staff would welcome Durbin’s soothing tones. Can anyone possibly imagine Durbin in a foul-mouthed fit of rage? And yet he has the evident discipline and single-mindedness to run the shop. Of course, he might want to wait until after Election Day 2010 to see whether he’s going to become Majority Leader.

Vice President: Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.). OK, the job’s not up for grabs and probably won’t be. But if Biden puts his foot so far in his mouth that even a team of otolaryngologists from George Washington University Hospital can’t remove it — or if he just gets sick of being Second Banana — Obama might want to turn to Hoyer. The House Majority Leader would be the moderate answer to the coming 2012 effort by the GOP to paint Obama as the smoother version of Leon Trotsky. What’s more, he’d crate-train those recalcitrant Blue Dogs for the boss. And he’d take the job. Steny knows Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) ain’t going nowhere.

Secretary of the Treasury: Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.). He has everyone’s phone number on Wall Street because he’s been hitting them up for money for so many years. True, he might not be the calming voice that the financial district and the country wants to hear during a meltdown. But he would pump up the PR factory for Obama’s economic agenda in a way the taciturn Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and professorial National Economic Council Director Larry Summers cannot.

Director of National Intelligence: Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.). She’s a liberal Democrat who has taken a hard enough line on national security and intelligence matters to gain the confidence of the spooky community. And as chairman of the Intelligence Committee, she already knows all the secret stuff anyway. OK, so she revealed that CIA drones were taking off from Pakistan. Who can remember every damn thing that’s secret and that’s not when you’re dealing with this stuff all day?

Secretary of Homeland Security: Sen. Jim Webb (D-Va.). Well, for one, he looks a little bit like Tom Ridge. But he doesn’t act like Ridge. No silly color-coded nonsense for tough-guy Webb. Rumor has it in North Waziristan that even Ayman al-Zawahiri is afraid of him.

Secretary of Health and Human Services: Former Sen. John Breaux (D-La.). Sure, he’s not on Capitol Hill anymore. But where is the ultimate deal-maker when you need him? The only thing Breaux knows better than the intricacies of health care are the catacombs of the Senate. Alas, too late, perhaps.

Attorney General: Sen. Arlen Specter (D-Pa.). Especially if he loses his re-election bid. The ultimate consolation prize for the man who piqued the entire GOP by giving the Democrats 60 votes but who hasn’t quite seduced his new party yet. He has relevant experience, having served as district attorney in Philadelphia back in the 1960s. And, as author of the Single Bullet Theory of the Kennedy assassination, he has experience solving crimes.

Secretary of Commerce: Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.). Because he’s a man who sometimes changes his mind.