It’s October 2007. Do you know who your president’s Cabinet is?
Probably not, but it’s not your fault. A little more than four years ago, I pointed out that, excepting the secretaries of defense, state, and treasury—I should have added attorney general to this caveat—President Bush’s Cabinet seemed a weirdly anonymous bunch. “As presidencies near their end,” I explained, “it’s not uncommon for dynamic Cabinet secretaries to be replaced by bland seat-warmers.” But this presidency (alas) wasn’t nearing its end.
Nearly half [Bush’s] current term remains, and there’s a fair chance he’ll be granted a second one. Moreover, with the sole exception of Treasury Secretary John Snow, every member of the current Bush Cabinet has been present since the start of Bush’s presidency. This is the Original Broadway Cast, not some touring company.
To underscore this point, then-Slate intern Avi Zenilman (now a college graduate with a real job) stood outside the Commerce Department for an hour and asked passers-by who the commerce secretary was. Out of 38 people queried, only seven knew it was Don Evans, and six of these seven were Commerce Department employees. In Washington, where even hot-dog vendors listen faithfully to All Things Considered, this is very unusual.
Two factors render most Bush Cabinet secretaries eligible for What’s My Line?
1) Bush has put forth almost no domestic policies. There was the No Child Left Behind education law, and there were restrictions on stem cell research, and there were busted plays on immigration reform and privatizing Social Security. Oh, and there was ghastly mismanagement of the Hurricane Katrina disaster in New Orleans, though I’m not sure you can term disastrous incompetence resulting from years of accumulated indifference a “policy.”2) What little domestic policy there’s been has come from the hip pocket of Bush’s political adviser Karl Rove. For much of Bush’s first term, even trained professionals like Dana Milbank of the Washington Post and yours truly were unable to properly identify the director of the Domestic Policy Council. It turned out there wasn’t any. (Today it’s Karl Zinsmeister, who is probably better known as the former editor of the American Enterprise, the onetime house organ of the conservative American Enterprise Institute, than as a White House aide.) With Rove gone, Bush no longer bothers even to feign interest in domestic policy.
Add to these two factors Bush’s current lame-duck status—nearly seven-eighths of his presidency gone—and the makeup of Bush’s Cabinet might as well be classified information. This is the non-Equity road company, Absolute Final Appearance in Duluth!, and I doubt even Tim Russert can identify most of Bush’s seat-warmers. Want to give it a whirl?
We’ll breeze past the exceptions to the rule—Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, and the likely to-be-confirmed nominee for attorney general, Michael Mukasey. Expect no congratulations for being familiar with these people. If you hadn’t been, it’s doubtful you’d have read this column in the first place.
If, on the other hand, you can identify the one remaining member of Bush’s original Cabinet who’s still there, pat yourself on the back. (The answer is upside down below.)
The real challenge, though, is matching the following names and faces to their Cabinet posts. Best of luck; you’ll need it.
If you got five or more right, pat yourself on the back. If you got seven or more right, you’re remarkably well-informed. If you got nine or more right, the only possible explanation is that you’re a lobbyist.
Correction, Oct. 3, 2007:An earlier version of this column stated, erroneously, that the agriculture secretary is Mike Johanns. On Sept. 20, Johanns vacated that post in order to run for the Senate seat of Chuck Hagel, R-Neb. The error’s source was the official White House Web page on Bush’s Cabinet, which at this writing continues to list Johanns as agriculture secretary. An earlier version of this column also stated, erroneously, that the veterans affairs secretary is Jim Nicholson. He vacated that post on Oct. 1. As with the previous error, the source was the official White House Web page on Bush’s Cabinet, which at this writing continues to list Nicholson as veterans affairs secretary. At slight risk of seeming insufficiently contrite about these two errors, the author wonders aloud whether the White House Web master’s inattention to these personnel changes might underscore his column’s larger point. Also, an earlier version of this column misspelled Gutierrez’s name as “Guttierez.” This can’t be blamed on the White House Web page, which spells Gutierrez’s name correctly.
[Update, Oct. 6, 2007: Three days after I pointed out to the great mass of Slate readers that the official White House Web page on Bush’s Cabinet identifies two cabinet secretaries incorrectly, the White House site remains uncorrected. Is the problem that they don’t know, or that we’re so far into the second term that they no longer care?]
[Update, Oct. 10, 2007: Okay, now the White House has fixed the problem I mentioned but created a new one. Johanns and Nicholson are finally gone from the official White House Web page on Bush’s Cabinet, replaced by acting secretaries Chuck Conner and Gordon Mansfield. But now Alberto Gonzales is identified as attorney general! I could have sworn that last time I looked at this page Gonzales (whose last day was Sept. 14) had been removed and acting attorney general Peter D. Keisler subbed in. Now Gonzales is back. I can only hope this change does not correspond to a Larry Craig-like reversal of Gonzales’ decision to resign ….]