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‘Team of rivals’ almost good to go

world Updated: Dec 08, 2008 22:25 IST
V Krishna
V Krishna
Hindustan Times
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With two days still left in Week 5 of the transition, president-elect Barack Obama has filled roughly half the slots in his Cabinet. On Sunday, he introduced retired General Eric Shinseki as his choice for veterans affairs secretary.

Shinseki, born in a Japanese American family in Hawaii, is the first Asian American to be nominated to Obama's Cabinet. He joins Timothy Geithner (Treasury), Hillary Clinton (State), Robert Gates (Defence), Eric Holder (Justice), Janet Napolitano (Homeland Security) and Bill Richardson (Commerce).

If you add Tom Daschle, whose nomination as health and human services secretary hasn't been officially announced yet, the number goes up to eight.

The Cabinet is made up of the secretaries of the 15 executive departments. Eight out of 15 means Obama is moving at a pretty good clip.

At this stage, Bill Clinton had made no appointment and Jimmy Carter had named only his secretary of state, as the Washington Post points out.

Some observers have called Obama's Cabinet-in-the-making a “team of rivals,” because of the presence of his former rivals Clinton and Richardson and the Bush appointee Gates. The name comes from the title of a Pulitzer Prize-winning book by Doris Kearns Goodwin about the presidency of Abraham Lincoln, who included his rivals in his Cabinet. “I don't want to have people who just agree with me,” Obama told Time. There are, of course, those who say Lincoln's experiment didn't work too well. And Lincoln wasn't the first president to include rivals in his Cabinet.

The academic credentials of Obama's larger team — 22 of the top 35 appointees have degrees from elite institutions, the Post says — have led to some supporters praising them as “the best and the brightest.” That is the title of a book by David Halberstam about John F. Kennedy's team. Sceptics point out that some of those people got the United States into a mess in Vietnam.

On a lighter note, if you want to impress your friends by naming the US Cabinet departments in order of precedence, this mnemonic might help: See The Dog Jump In A Circle; Leave Her Home To Entertain Educated Visitors (State, Treasury, Defence, Justice, Interior, Agriculture, Commerce, Labour, Health and Human Services, Housing and Urban Development, Transportation, Energy, Education and Veterans Affairs). Just don't forget to add Homeland Security.

I first came across this mnemonic in The New York Times in the late '80s. What I had missed — and have discovered now, thanks to Google —was a funnier alternative suggested by a reader: Suddenly, The Dow Jones Industrial Average Collapsed, Leaving Hard-Headed Traders Evoking Evil Verbs.

Only, the collapse hasn't been sudden this time.