Thursday, November 20, 2008

Wasting your party II: Napolitano in Cabinet

Are you freaking kidding me? First, it seemed that Obama was willing to divert Hillary Clinton's stellar career into a Cabinet dead end. I question that, and it appears that Hillary may be smart enough to be wary such a fate:
Associates of Senator Hillary Clinton said yesterday she is weighing whether to leave Congress and become secretary of state in the Obama administration, a job they say she believes is hers if she wants it.

One major factor is clearly the offer of being at Ted Kennedy's side to pilot a national health care program through the Senate. Hopefully, she weighs against being diverted into a blind alley.

However, Obama is biding time waiting for Hillary's answer by torpedoing another Democratic all-star:

Looks like Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano has been selected to head the Department of Homeland Security, which oversees immigration policy, among many other things.

Napolitano may have been the only politician in the country who was able to navigate the political shoals of immigration when it was dividing the country in 2006 and 2007.

Now, I'm a huge fan of Governor Napolitano, and she does have a deft touch for immigration. She has a lot to contribute to that debate, which she can do rather effectively as a governor of a border state, making policy decisions on the ground. She can act, not talk, and show the results of her actions.

I'd like to see Napolitano push her career as far as she could take it. Which may be the Senate, where she leads polling in a matchup against Senator John McCain. Taking out McCain would make her a top-of-the-line member of the Democratic bench. As a special bonus, not only would this appointment effectively end Governor Napolitano's political career and preserve McCain in the Senate, it would bestow us with a Republican governor, as well.

As time goes on, I find myself questioning the purpose of diverting promising politicians to Cabinet. Quick, name the Cabinet Secretary of Homeland Security. I think of myself pretty plugged in, but all I could come up with was "not Bernard Kerik". I guess I knew that it was Michael Chertoff, but I didn't really care. Cabinet strikes me as a good place for poicymakers, not politicians, and I do think there remains a difference.

The ideal is to find people long enough in the political circle that they can implement their policy ideas. That makes Tom Daschle a good pick for Health and Human Services. It also makes Howard Dean and Bill Richardson excellent candidates for Cabinet posts. Why Obama would want to shuttle off two leading Democratic women into his policy talk shop, rather than demonstrating how Democrats govern effectively and get results, is beyond me.

Cabinet secretaries often last 4 years, tops. To imagine that Hillary Clinton and Janet Napolitano would both have finished their political careers in 2012 turns my stomach. Is Napolitano going to try to push her way back into Arizona after abandoning it? What is Clinton going to do -- primary a sitting Senator? Ask Robert Reich how well Cabinet Secretary serves as a springboard in a swingy state such as North Carolina or Arizona.

Particularly about this move with Napolitano, I worry it makes Arizona our version of New Jersey. New Jersey had a moderate Republican governor in Christine Todd Whitman. She was a visible leader in a region and a school of thought that Republicans needed. She was a real political leader in a state where Republicans were barely hanging on. Instead, she was sent to direct the EPA, where she essentially implemented Bush's bad decisions. New Jersey, meanwhile, went with a Democratic governor and has become a reliably blue state. Whitman's voice was silenced, her power was wasted, and her state was lost.

Without Napolitano, I fear that Arizona will be off the table as a future swing state. With two Republican Senators and a Republican Governor, we'd be reaching down to the AA level to find decent Democratic leaders. Instead of organizing new American voters who lean Democratic with policy leadership, we'll be starting over.

Plucking a promising Democratic leader who can aid in making Arizona a swing state and retire John McCain to fill out a political talk-shop is a bad idea. It's a spendthrift approach to Democratic talent, and I regret to see it happening.

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