The Los Angeles Times, the Washington Post, and the New York Times all lead with President-elect Bush’s recent round of Cabinet selections: Wisconsin Gov. Tommy G. Thompson as secretary of health and human services; former Colorado Attorney General Gale A. Norton as secretary of the interior; Houston School Superintendent Rod Paige as education secretary; and Anthony J. Principi, former secretary of veterans’ affairs under President George Bush, in his old post. Bush made the announcements yesterday from his transition headquarters in Washington and now has only the labor, energy, and transportation posts left to fill. Bush’s aides also announced yesterday that the president-elect will hold a private “economic summit” next week in Austin, where he will gather economists as well as business, finance, and high-tech leaders to discuss policy with his economic team.
The papers agree that Bush’s Cabinet has turned out to be solidly conservative, early talk of a more moderate team notwithstanding. And the NYT and the WP both remark high up on the now very slim chance that Bush will name a Democrat to his Cabinet as he had once planned. The WP calls the most recent Cabinet appointments “diverse in background, if not in ideology.” Paige is the second African-American in the cabinet, Norton the third woman. The LAT compares this diversity to Clinton’s highly publicized construction eight years ago of a Cabinet that would “look like America.” The Thompson and Norton selections are likely to be the most controversial: Thompson’s for his strong anti-abortion stance and Norton’s for her advocacy of private property rights and her general opposition to federal regulations that “restrict the use of land without compensating owners for the loss of revenue those restrictions impose” (NYT).
Less problematic were the nominations of Paige and Principi, which, the papers report, were generally well-received across the political spectrum. The WP notes that Bush aides “crowed” about the speed of the president-elect’s transition: Where other administrations took eight to12 weeks to name their Cabinets, Bush has named 12 of 15 posts in just over two weeks. According to Bush’s press secretary, such speed is the sign of a “decisive leader.”
Both the LAT and the WP front profiles of Tommy Thompson that spotlight his conservative credentials. Thompson, well-known nationally as a welfare reformer, is also the country’s longest-serving governor (14 years) and “arguably the foremost proponent of distributing power to the states” (WP). In Wisconsin, Thompson’s welfare overhauls slashed the rolls by almost 90 percent, “cutting welfare spending but increasing investments in childcare and health care, especially for low-income working families” (LAT). The WP asserts that such policies prove that for Thompson “welfare reform is not always a way to save the government money.” And Thompson’s support of family planning programs and his investment in a statewide initiative for improvements in women’s health give him a somewhat broader ideological appeal. The WP calls Thompson’s range of policies “eclectic,” and the LAT characterizes the social programs backed by Thompson as a “complex, often progressive amalgam.” Both papers are rightly amused by the irony that the one of the nation’s most vocal opponents of Washington macro-management and a guy who in his autobiography called the nation’s capital “Disneyland East” (WP) might now run the country’s largest civilian agency.
The NYT fronts a report exploring the implications of Norton’s selection and predicting its likely opposition. This is because Norton has long been a vocal advocate of limiting governmental control in environmental decisions and granting more power to local governments and private corporations. (As attorney general of Colorado, she championed the state’s “self-audit” law, one opposed by the Environmental Protection Agency, which allows companies to monitor their own compliance with environmental regulations.) Given both Bush’s interest in opening Alaska’s National Wildlife for new drilling and the intense Democratic opposition to this proposal in Congress, the NYT predicts that the battle may become “a defining controversy for early months of the Bush administration.” While the oil industry and other opponents of federal regulation cheered the pick, environmental groups were less sanguine. In what was not meant as a compliment, a Sierra Club spokesperson linked Norton to her anti-conservationist mentor (and Reagan’s interior secretary), describing her as “James Watt in a skirt.”
An NYT front-pager offers a sobering end-of-the-year review of the stock market’s “brutal year,” which went out with a whimper–and another slide–yesterday afternoon. The report is chock-full of statistics detailing the rocky year, which ended with “devastated investors and the worst returns in more than two decades.” Hardest hit was the technology-rich Nasdaq index, which suffered its worst annual loss ever, dropping 39.3 percent. Technology heavyweights Dell Computers and Microsoft saw their stock plummet 66 percent and 63 percent, respectively, while e-commerce giant Amazon.com was down 77 percent for the year and Yahoo down 86.1 percent. One silver lining: the old economy stocks–especially utilities, energy, tobacco, and health care–had a decent year. The report engages in some damage control when it notes that this year’s market plunge seems even sharper measured against the remarkable growth of the previous five years, during which all three major indexes logged double-digit returns. The subtext? America, you’ve been spoiled.