Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Whitehouse Cabinet: The Would-Workers

The members of President Barack Obama's cabinet make a pretty exclusive country club. Some of those jobs are what you make of them, like former Iowa governor Tom Vilsack's Secretariat of Agriculture, a post vastly more important when cities actually understood where their next meal was coming from.

Since Earl Butz, Nixon & Ford's boy at Ag, the post has diminished, but in the daze of chronic ag overproduction, post-Castro sugar price supports — as you no doubt recall, "C&H" used to mean "Cuban and Hawaiian" — Butler bins and farm set-aside programs (before the Green Revolution, in other words), the job actually meant something.

These days, climate change, environmental agronomy, neopestilence, proteomics, bioengineering and the Agrichemical-Industrial Complex (to coin a phrase) pose challenges only dimly appreciated. Vilsack is an ok administrator; I have doubts about his interdisciplinary imagination.
This is a bit recherche, but remember back in 2001, when the source of "weaponized anthrax" turned out to be a veterinary research project at the National Animal Disease Center (ARS) in Ames, Iowa? There's no such thing as "agriculture" anymore, not in the pre-biotechnological Jethro Tull sense.
Kathleen Sibelius, by comparison, the Kansas governor just sworn in (rising far above the toxic Republican spew) as Health and Human Services Secretary, is on the fast track to stardom if she wants it. But the truth is, her job and Vilsack's overlap — with just about every other Cabinet level position. [N.B. I live in Iowa. I'm from Kansas.]

It's probably a "logical oversight" that two members of the Legislative branch, U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and U.S. Senate President pro tempore Robert Byrd, have been left out of the Whitehouse list of order of succession to the Presidency. Both follow Vice President Joe Biden and precede Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. The order of Cabinet succession is the order in which those posts were created by acts of Congress, so the cavil is germane.

But we would all probably be better served by abandoning these 19th Century entelechies, with their built-in God-derived top-down heirarchies, in favor of organically networked structures that no one pretends are "independent." Maybe the Brits have got it right; a parliamentary system is preferable to an artificial pastiche of unelected incompetencies?



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