The President's Cabinet

The more things change...

Presidential appointments to top cabinet posts illustrate the shared attitudes and common experiences of the power elite.

The 1990s seems to be the decade of the "outsider" running for public office. Americans, frustrated by the gridlock they see in Washington and petty politics on the campaign trail, have come to believe that only by "throwing the bums out" can government be made to work for the people.

Candidates have been quick to seize on this anger by, whenever possible, proclaiming that they too are distressed by entrenched incumbents and will remain independent of it even taking office. Aspirants for the presidency have been particular vocal in this regard. Blaming the nation problems the entrenched Washington establishment, they promise to put "new" people with fresh ideas into their administrations.

Most of the candidates for the 1996 Republican presidential nomination took this stance. (Senator Robert Dole, a member of Congress for more than 20 years was the only exception.) Four years earlier, Bill Clinton told his followers that if, an outsider, were elected, he would install a cabinet that "looked like America."

Yet the phenomenon of railing against incumbents and insiders is not new. Indeed, Jimmy Carter based his successful 1996 campaign on exactly the same claim:

The people of this country know from bitter experience that we are not going to get...changes merely shifting around the same group of insiders....The insiders have had their chance and they have not delivered....The time has come for the great majority of Americans to have a president who will turn the government of this country inside out.

Now look at a few of the people he named to his cabinet:

Next consider President Reagan, another self-styled outsider, who also promised to bring new blood to the executive branch. But like Carter's "outsiders," most had previous government experience, most were lawyers or executives in charge of large companies, and all had traveled in the upper reaches of power and influence for years. Two examples:

Even though he was vice-president at the time of his election, George Bush promised during the campaign to bring "wholesale change" and "new faces" to Washington. Still, he too chose men and women who had been working for years in the inner circles of power:

Finally, upon taking office President Clinton followed his predecessors by naming men and women who had been traveling at the highest of political and corporate power for years.

The list is, of course, selective. Nor does it prove that Democrats and Republicans hold the same positions on important issues. Conservative and moderate presidents differ on a host of policies. But power elite theorists use these backgrounds to demonstrate that presidential appointments usually involve people with years of government and corporate experience and with extensive formal and informal contacts with other establishment personalities. They are individuals who, if not born into the upper crust of society, were very much a part of it at the time of their appointments. Most important of all, they share a "world-view," as set of assumptions, beliefs, attitudes, and values that bound them closely to the large corporate and financial community. In a nutshell, the people who rule corporate America also dominate government.

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