The Prestige of Cabinet Selection

I am trying to understand why so many people are willing to vacate the elected office that they fought so hard to achieve in order to serve in a cabinet post for President-elect Obama.

Obama has already vacated his Senate seat representing Illinois – which has caused some commotion when Governor Rod Blagojevich decided he’d like to profit on successor selection.

Vice President-elect Joe Biden will be vacating his office shortly and we have already heard rumblings coming out of Delaware over the selection process.

Hillary Clinton (NY) and Ken Salazar (CO) have both accepted nominations from Obama to lead State and Interior respectively.  I’ve have been trying to understand why anyone would want to leave the United States Senate and the near guarantee of perpetual re-election for a position that would only last a few years at most. 

Is there greater prestige to hold a cabinet position?  I think there is, but Senate leaders also hold positions of great prestige.  I had first thought that the problem was the length of Senate service required to achieve the level of Harry Reid.  But he was first elected to the US Senate in 1987 and achieved the position of Minority Whip after just 2 years in the Senate a position now held by Dick Durbin (IL). 

So I’m at a loss. 

Then, we see that Rahm Emanuel decided to vacate his House seat for the position of Obama’s Chief of Staff.  Bill Richardson (NM) and Janet Napolitano (AZ) will be vacating the office of Governor for the cabinet positions of Commerce and Homeland Security respectively.

I know cabinet positions do possess a certain level of prestige and can open certain doors after leaving the position but how does it compare to a lifetime of service in the United States Senate? 

And when I say a lifetime of service, I am not kidding.  Ted Stevens will be exiting, only because he was convicted of corruption, at the age of 85.  Robert Byrd is the oldest at 91.  There are 4 others currently over 80 and another 20 between the ages of 70 and 80.  There are another 20 between the ages of 65 and 69 and 16 between 60 and 65. 

That means 62 out of 100 United States Senators are at least 60 years of age.  To put this in perspective, there are 23 Senators (in office today) that are older than 72 year old John McCain.  The average age of the senators is 62 which means collectively they are almost able to receive Social Security.

But I digress.

Why leave the Senate, the House or a Governor’s position for a position in a cabinet? 

After leaving President Clinton’s cabinet, Richardson became governor of New Mexico only to depart for a job in Obama’s cabinet. 

After serving in a cabinet position many take positions on board of directors, go on the lecture circuit or write books.  I could see Salazar taking a run at Colorado governor. 

For Clinton, it could be a precursor to another run at the White House.   Adding Secretary of State to her resume makes her quite a formidable candidate in a 2016 run.

Emanuel is rumored to want his old House seat in 2 years and a return to the House will make him more powerful.

That leaves the 2 governors.    Can Napolitano be eyeing a White House run in 2016?  It is possible.  Just a quick aside – Napolitano served as attorney for Anita Hill during the Senate confirmation hearings for Clarence Thomas.  Hill, if you recall, claimed that Thomas sexually harassed her when she worked for him.

Richardson has served as Ambassador to the United Nations and as Secretary of Energy under President Clinton.  Richardson may believe he has another shot at President in 8 years when he will be 69 but I suspect he is preparing himself for life out of politics possibly serving on a board of directors or as an adjunct professor. 

I still don’t have my ‘why’. 

Is it the honor of being selected to serve the president?  That is the impression I got while watching The West Wing, but this isn’t a television program.

Is it the desire to make a difference for this country?  As far as Tom Daschle is concerned, I think this is what is driving him.  He is extremely passionate about fixing the health care problem in the country and it is evident in the videos that he has posted on Obama’s Change.gov site. 

I think I am going to take some time and review past cabinet holders and see where their careers led them after they served. 

Dick Cheney served as President Ford’s Chief of Staff – replacing someone by the name of Donald Rumsfeld.  Afterward, Cheney moved into the US House and served as House Whip before being selected as Bush 41’s Secretary of Defense and of course Bush 43’s Vice President.  Let’s not forget his time as Halliburton CEO during the Clinton administration.

George Stephanopoulis from Clinton’s administration and Bush’s brain, Karl Rove both can now be found on television.   

I know I didn’t yet reach the conclusion but I started this post saying that I was trying to understand why elected officials who fought for 1-2 years each election cycle for their position – who schmoozed and pandered in order to raise millions of dollars which would require constant bathing and fumigation – who ran themselves ragged campaigning, neglected their families, smeared and got smeared and in some cases sold their souls in order to win a political position that would require them to do it all again in as soon as 2 years with regards to the House – WHY WOULD THEY WALK AWAY!?! 

I think that answers the question. 

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One response to “The Prestige of Cabinet Selection

  1. After discovering that Hillary was not Constitutionally qualified for the Secretary of State job because the salary of the secretary of State was raised while she was in the Senate, Congress and President Bush passed a bill lowering the Secretary Of State’s salary. There will likely be a federal lawsuit. I wonder if John Kerry will be the plaintiff?

    President Signs Bill Lowering Salary of Secretary of State
    December 19th, 2008

    On December 19, President George W. Bush signed Senate Joint Resolution 46, which lowers the salary of the Secretary of State from $191,300 to $186,600. SJR 46 had been introduced in the U.S. Senate on December 10, and it passed unanimously that same day. The House passed it unanimously on December 12. The reason for the bill is that Article I, section 6, says that no member of Congress may take an office if the salary for that office had been increased while that individual was in Congress. Senator Hillary Clinton was in Congress when the Secretary of State’s salary was increased in 2007. Link here.