When Politicians Took Over the Cabinet

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By Albert R. Hunt

President Dwight Eisenhower's Cabinet, unveiled 60 years ago, was made up of nine businessmen and a plumber, Labor Secretary Martin Durkin, who had been a leader of the plumber's union.

That was the last time the Cabinet didn't include high-voltage politicians. There's a reason.

"Elected officials have dealt with constituencies," notes Shirley Warshaw, a presidential scholar at Gettysburg College.  "They better understand the political nature of decision-making."

After Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy chose three governors and a member of Congress for his initial Cabinet. Next, Richard Nixon, who'd been Ike's vice president, tapped three governors, a lieutenant governor and a House Republican leader. There were a half-dozen elected politicians in President Jimmy Carter's team.

Ronald Reagan, who was governor of California, had more legislators than governors in his Cabinet; so did his successor, George H.W. Bush. His son, President George W. Bush, a former Texas governor, returned to form with seven governors serving in his Cabinet over his two terms.

The top four Cabinet posts are secretary of state, defense, Treasury and justice. President Bill Clinton named two politicians to these posts: Texas Senator Lloyd Bentsen at Treasury and Congressman Les Aspin to Defense; in the second Clinton term, former Senator Bill Cohen was at the Pentagon.

 As I discuss in my column today, President Barack Obama has enlisted governors and members of Congress, eight in all, in the first term. Some prominent elected officials are now leaving, but he's adding five-term Senator John Kerry as secretary of state and, if confirmed, two-term former Senator Chuck Hagel at defense.

(Albert R. Hunt is a Bloomberg View columnist. Follow him on Twitter.)

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-0- Feb/10/2013 16:42 GMT