A similar version of this post was published in The Water Tower.
I’d like to address a common but rarely discussed affliction. It usually comes with unwarranted embarrassment, so I want the people out there who have fallen victim to rest easy, knowing they’re not alone and they need not feel ashamed. No, put away your hemorrhoids, ‘cause that shit is actually embarrassing. I’m talking about president envy.
Now you understand. Admit it: you might not want to take Obama’s job, but you’re damn jealous of his seemingly endless expertise, his stunning cadence, and his thousand-dollar outfits. Watching everything from his State of the Union Address, his conversations with adverse diplomats, and news coverage of him buying a fucking hamburger leaves you feeling pretty good about your country but pretty awful about yourself. You may have just written a groundbreaking twenty-page paper about immigration reform, but Obama knows twenty times more about it than you do, as well as every other topic you’ve ever heard him dumb down for you and the rest of the American public. You might as well crawl into a hole and weep.
Or just keep reading and feel much better.
Here’s the big secret, which you probably already know if you’ve ever watched The West Wing: Mr. President doesn’t do it alone. The impression of seemingly universal expertise is the product of the hundreds of experts who advise him; Americans will feel more at ease thinking their leader has superhuman intelligence. Obama is a great diplomat, but he couldn’t negotiate deals with leaders of China and Russia without a team of ambassadors telling him what to say. Obama gives phenomenal speeches, thanks to no fewer than seven speechwriters. And let’s not forget the teleprompter technicians.
But the real powerhouse behind the President is his Cabinet, his Justice League, his team of trusty friends and experts that since our nation’s birth have helped our Commander-in-Chiefs focus on smaller chunks of the big picture. Their work can be as stressful as the President’s, and two-term presidents often shift around their cabinets to get some fresh legs and fresh perspectives. Let’s look at three of our newest cabinet members and what change they’ll bring to Washington.
John Kerry, Secretary of State Everyone’s favorite Massachusetts Governor, Vietnam veteran, 2004 Presidential Candidate, and ketchup enthusiast, Kerry replaced Sec. Hilary Rodham Clinton on February 1st. Currently on a nine-country diplomatic tour, he promised $60 million in aid to Syrian rebels (a first for the US in the Syrian Civil War), but garnered criticism around the Middle East for his apparent blind support of Israel. Bringing peace and making allies in the transforming Arab world will be Kerry’s major priority, as well as working with new leaders of China, North and South Korea, Mexico, and EU states to steer the country out of 2008-09’s financial crash.
Chuck Hagel, Secretary of Defense Another Vietnam veteran and Purple Heart recipient, Hagel is actually the first Defense Secretary EVER to have formerly served in the armed forces. He says he understands the cost of war and will do whatever he can to avoid it, as well as ease our transition out of Afghanistan by the end of 2014. Though a Republican, he staunchly opposed the Iraq War and criticized Congress for pandering to the “Jewish lobby” in regards to Israel. This came back to bite him in his congressional hearing, where his fellow Republicans in the Senate filibustered his appointment, but Democrats finally voted to end the debate and confirm Hagel on Feb. 26th, replacing Sec. Leon Panetta.
Jack Lew, Secretary of Treasury After serving as Clinton’s Special Assistant and Obama’s Chief of Staff, Lew now leads the Treasury as an experienced economist and loyal Democrat. Sworn in on Feb. 28th, Lew replaces Sec. Timothy Geithner, a banker and a leader of the team Obama assembled to steer the country safely out of the Recession. Now, with the worst behind us, Lew will make sure that we can jump over hurdles like the sequester, the debt crisis, and bipartisan budget negotiations without threatening education, innovation, and infrastructure, programs that pay off in the long run.
And that’s not all: Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar and Secretary of Energy (and Nobel Physics Laureate) Steven Chu have both announced that they’ll be stepping down as soon as their replacements have been appointed. This could be good or bad news for environmentalists, who recently held the biggest environmental rally to date outside the White House to encourage Obama to reject the proposed Keystone Pipeline that would bring dirty tar oil sands from Canada to the US.
Even for a man of seemingly superhuman intelligence, Obama has always had a hard time pleasing everyone. He seems to be pushing a stronger agenda so far in his second term (now that reelection is no longer an issue), pushing for massive reforms in gun control, immigration, tax code, spending, and environmental policy. Obama’s State of the Union address showed his specific and ambitious plans for many different things. But he was just serving as the spokesman for the real masterminds of these plans, the Cabinet, who will continue to transform Obama’s ideals into tangible policies.
This graphic scrutinizes Obama’s new cabinet picks–barely giving them a chance to prove themselves. Credit: WashingtonPost.com