Ever since Abraham Lincoln assembled his famed "cabinet of rivals," presidents have been trying to achieve that elusive combination of advisors that produce great ideas through conflict.
In his first term, President Obama came very close to doing just that, offering influential posts to known political rivals, such as Secretary of State to then-opponent Hillary Clinton. Such nominations, though initially cautioned against by his advisors, became categorical successes. Most importantly, Obama actively pursued racial and gender diversity, eventually assembling the most diverse cabinet in White House history with five women, four blacks, three Hispanics, and two Asians.
Now, with the departure of much of that diversity, including Clinton, Labor Secretary Hilda Solis, and Energy Secretary Steven Chu, Obama seems to be seeking diversity of a different kind: Republicans. With a multitude of spots to fill, here are four well-known Republicans that would make a great asset to Obama’s White House Cabinet.
1) Defense Secretary - Chuck Hagel: Yes, he has already been nominated, but many pundits seem to doubt the selection. The most common attack against Hagel rests on the false assumption that he is anti-Israel. Hagel's record shows that he has voted for providing military aid to Israel in the past, and statements like "I am not an Israeli senator. I'm a United States senator" are both factually correct and completely reasonable. Frankly, it's a breath of fresh air to encounter a congressman who supports Israel – but not unconditionally or at the expense of other relations.
The one caveat is Hagel’s comment about a "Jewish lobby," which was insensitive and ill informed. Hagel should make a sincere public apology for that remark. But at the point where Israeli think tanks and Jewish rabbis are calling anti-Semitic claims against Hagel outrageous, it stands that this remark was a one-time misstep, not indicative of anything more.
Furthermore, Hagel's turn against the Iraq War during the Bush administration demonstrates an ability to critically assess military actions as well as the capacity to ignore partisanship in pursuit of the right path, both of which are critical for a Defense Secretary. His status as a decorated war veteran is the icing on the cake.
2) Treasury Secretary – Jack Welch: Welch served as the Chairman and CEO of General Electric for twenty years, during which he revolutionized it entirely. As a junior engineer, Welch hated the bureaucracy of the massive company, and when he grew to the highest ranks, his goal was to make GE the top company in every field it invested in. To do so, he constantly insisted on results from his executives and managers, rewarding those who succeeded (including a broad range of stock options for more than a third of the company) and firing those who didn't. Lackluster performance was trimmed immediately, and Welch managed to streamline GE greatly while increasing the company's value 4000%.
With the US deficit reaching trillions and growing with every passing day, the government could use the advice of someone who spent twenty years cutting a company down to size – and making it better and more efficient all the while. Welch has been criticized for his ruthless techniques, and it is important to note that a country cannot run like a corporation; nonetheless, his talent for streamlining could be tempered by more socially focused sentiments in the White House, creating the perfect storm to eliminate excess bureaucracy.
3) EPA Administrator – Olympia Snowe: Known as one of the more moderate Republican elements in the Senate, Snowe voted in 2002 to make the EPA Administrator a cabinet-level position. She has also voted for numerous environmental measures throughout her career: from vetoes on Arctic drilling to increasing regulations on smokestack pollution to more funding for forests and fisheries. She was a ranking member of the Senate Subcommittee on Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries, and Coast Guard, and The League of Conservation Voters, the "political voice of the national environmental movement," gave her a lifetime 66% rating, indicating a pro-environment track record that is significantly higher than her Republican counterparts.
Snowe resigned from the Senate this month after completing her 6-year tenure, citing partisanship as the reason for her discontinuation. However, by becoming part of the Obama cabinet, Snowe herself would be straddling party lines, becoming the very bipartisan force that she wanted to see in the government and pursuing the pro-environment objectives she has been supporting for the past 18 years.
4) Energy Secretary – Michael Bloomberg: Though officially an Independent now, three-term New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg has run as a Republican party candidate numerous times in the past. One of his biggest achievements during his tenure as mayor was his push on the environment and clean energy, making New York City the first city in the U.S. to join the Climate Group. Most significantly, Bloomberg created PlaNYC, an extensive project that aims to make "a greener, greater New York" by 2030. The plan implemented over 125 initiatives tailored specifically for the city, including retrofitting the largest buildings with green energy, abating the solar panel tax, and providing energy-efficiency training. Though the plan was launched only in 2011, positive results are already showing.
As major economic powers rise in the global economy, it is more important than ever for the U.S. to serve as an example in its use of clean energy. And yet, the issue hardly gained any airtime in the recent presidential campaign coverage, and the post of Secretary of Energy has also traditionally been a less-visible position in the cabinet. With Bloomberg's final term as mayor ending soon, he will no doubt be looking for another post, and as Energy Secretary, Bloomberg's personality and advocacy would push the position and the issue closer to the public eye – exactly where it should be.