To what extent is the US Cabinet a "dignified" institution in US government?

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  • Created by: Dulcimer
  • Created on: 19-01-15 17:50
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  • To what extent is the US Cabinet a "dignified" institution in US government?
    • 1867 book "The English Constitution"
      • Walter Bagehot talks about "efficient" and "dignified"
        • institutions of government
        • Efficient
          • those that actually do something to achieve a purpose
        • Dignified
          • More symbolic & could be constitutional artifact that's not used and not important, yet remains part of the political system
      • Some argue that the cabinet isn't an efficient institution of gov
        • For various reasons
        • others also believe it still has a purpose in modern times
    • Dignified?
      • Constitution hasn't given the cabinet a specific role
        • Only as powerful as president allows it to be
          • flexibility= Cabinets influence ebbs and flows depending on the presidential status, insiders/ outsiders
            • Usefulness of cabinet decreases as their term continues
              • Ronald Reagan
                • 1st year = 36 Cabinet meetings
                • 4th year = 12
                • Bill Clinton
                  • only 6 cabinet meetings
                • Washington outsiders
                  • Bill Clinton
                    • only 6 cabinet meetings
                  • Governors, not career in congress or washington
                  • Initially= insecure, so consult more
                    • Eventually more secure and assert themselves
              • George H. W. Bush
                • 49 meetings in his entire 4 year term
                • average of 6 per year
                • Insider
                  • Reagan's Vice president so not as dependent on cabinet
      • Called on only when needed
        • NOT WEEKLY LIKE UK
          • Because UK Cabinet under Prime Minister is theoretically
            • Primus inter pares
          • US
            • Cabinet under, the president
              • President is very much
                • Primus
          • Members of US Cabinet, unlike UK not considered to be a political threat to the president
            • In UK
              • any of cabinet, even those heading unimportant departments e.g. Culture, Media and Sport
                • could theoretically pose a threat
              • President's can't be overthrown in the way Margaret Thatcher was
              • However
                • Cabinet member looking for premiership
                  • Have to challenge current leader in a leadership eleceticon
                    • As they're all drawn from the legislature
                      • So, theoretically equals
                        • Meaning there's a heightened risk to the primeminister
                • US
                  • ONLY way cabinet members can become presidents themselves is by waiting for the president or next in succession to die
                    • e.g.
                      • Janet Napolitano, Secretary for Homeland Security
                        • last in line of succession, as department only recently founded in 2002
                          • ONLY BECOME PRESIDENT IF LOTS OF PEOPLE DIED
                    • Therefore potential of Cabinet secretaries to be a threat is limited
                      • Most aren't career politicians or interested in becoming the president, they prefer to stay where they are and head of their department
                    • BEING A CABINET MEMBER IS NOT CONSIDERED A ROUTE TO PRESIDENCY
                      • Considered routes = vice president, senator, congressman or governor
                        • Routes= acceptable bec. provide executive and legislative experience
                          • valuable to a prospective president
                      • Being a Cabinet Secretary
                        • note the word secretary, it implies they are only administrators, not powerful individuals
                        • neither form of experience provided
                      • if president threatened by anyone in the cabinet, they can't progress and they're likely to know this
                      • Last president who was previously a Cabinet Secretary was Herbert Hoover (1929-33)
                        • Secretary of Commerce
      • Cabinets role in government, superseded by the EXOP
        • The Executive Office to the President
        • Formed by Franklin D. Roosevelt
          • Following Brownlow Report of 1937
            • "The President needs help"
          • Of course help could be given by the cabinet
            • But, perhaps the president pictured a more partisan and personal body to solicit advice
        • More likelier to consider the political implications  to the president as well as logistical issues and other problems
          • Marginalisation has become more apparent
            • esp. with Nixon and Bush Sr. administrations
              • Nixon actively prevented cabinet secretaries from having meetings with him
              • Bush Sr.'s Chief of staff John Sununu held such influence with the President and his schedule that he often to as the "Deputy President"
              • Consequently, Cabinet neutered essentially to a collection of people with no real power outside their departments
                • No influence on pres, means they're expected to just go along with presidential decision
                  • Bush Sr, puts it "When I make a call, we move as a team"
                • HOWEVER
                  • This doesn't mean a sense of collective ministerial responsibility exists in US gov.
                    • While, in UK, it's generally the policy(except when free votes and some coalitions)
                      • to support a decision or resign from government
                    • US, different
                      • Cabinet secretaries can feel free to object
                        • However, their objection = meaningless, as const. vests all executive power in the pres. and cabinet has no defined legal status or powers
                          • or indeed accountability from congress
                        • Secretaries often disagree
                          • That doesn't mean anything significant other than media fodder if row is public
                          • 1960s Defence Secretary Robert McNamara and Secretary of State Dean Rusk
                            • Clashed publicly over the vietnam war
                              • neither forced to resign over it
                            • if in uk it would be impossible
                              • dissenting minister would be forced to resign for deviating from collective responsibility
                            • Malcom Walles
                              • in us "no party pressures to induce a sense of collectivity and no electoral demands to impose and outward unity"
    • Cabinet is efficient
      • heads of the 15 cabinet departments are actually policy specialists
        • have experience of general activities in their department
          • Eric Shinseki, the Secretary of Veterans Affairs
            • Four star general in the US Army
              • Knowledge of what it's like to be a veteran & soldier so can direct department better than a generalist
        • Energy Secretary
          • Steven Chu
            • Academic with experience of energy methods
            • And other related things
        • UK comparison
          • Cabinet member generalists and some are often reshuffled to other departments
          • But it can be said with some merit that their ability to manage the Environment portfolio better than they might have done with Northern Ireland, as in the case of Owen Patterson
      • Some presidents, use Cabinet meetings as a way for them to disseminate and gather information
        • make sure Cabinet Secretaries, some which may have 'gone native'
          • are aware of President's legislative and departmental priorities
            • and ensure they do their best to make sure it happens
        • President can also simply go around the table asking cabinet members what is going on in their departments
          • President Carter ( 1977- 81) was a particular fan of this
            • Cabinet meetings usually involved the president going clockwise (next time, anticlockwise)
              • Round the table
            • they can keep abreast of each other's news
              • if cabinet was dignified, there would be no need for this
                • bother showing up
                • So must be relevant and efficient
        • Some pres. use Cabinet meetings as a forum to discuss policy
          • Depends on president
          • But when used this way it is effiecient
        • UK comparison
          • Cabinet essentially a policy forum
            • providing opinions to the prime minister
              • but they might not be heeded
                • Like in US with Cabinet secretaries
              • policy meetings of the Cabinet can get rather heated
                • Reagan's Defense Secretary
                  • Frank Carlucci
                    • remembered 'that Cabinet meetings were often vigorous, such as the one on the pros and cons of building the Russian oil pipeline - it was quite a shouting match"
      • Even if Cabinet as an entity is less efficient than it could be, individual  Cabinet secretaries can hold considerable influence and importance to particular presidents
        • Secretaries wouldn't be heads of departments e.g. Housing and Urban Development
          • however, in the wider scheme of things they are unimportant
        • Ones holding greater influence, usually those holding one of the primary offices of the Cabinet
          • e.g. Hilary Clinton held considerable influence with Barack Obama
          • These secretaries generally hold importance for their position
            • Defense secretary would be important at times of war for instance
        • Therefore, aspects of the cabinet can remain efficient, even in times when the President maintains separation with the Cabinet
          • these secretaries can provide advice also, even if the EXOP are competing with them in that regard
    • Conclusion
      • Cabinet is more dignified than efficient
        • main problems twofold
          • const. never gave cabinet constitutional status or defined roles, as it has done with 3 arms of government
            • Cabinet's power is highly erratic and its use fluctuates over time with every president
              • Depends on whether they're washington insiders or outsiders
          • much of Cabinet's former unofficial role has been superseded by EXOP
            • in particular the white house office
              • Daniel Moynihan
                • "Never underestimate the power of proximity"
              • On west wing, so have constant links and communication with the president
                • Heads of Cabinet departments much further away
                  • Less influence and chance to talk to the president
            • EXOP CAN'T GO NATIVE
              • Therefore, EXOP will always have the President's personal and political interests at heart when it comes to policy
        • No fixed role, can only be dignified
      • However cabinet is efficient in some ways
        • can be used to discuss policy and keep them aware of the President's priorities for their department
          • Useful in early stages of the presidency
        • Specialists
          • particular expertise in a field
            • valuable to the smooth running of government
            • able to give insightful advice if asked for
        • Work with members of the EXOP in Cabinet Councils
          • prevents rivalry in the two bodies
      • On the whole, it wouldn't be unsafe to say that the cabinet is not really efficient  and has become more dignified and oriental as of late
        • even if some senior cab. sec. can be useful to the pres.
          • Cabinet as a whole not strong and usually ignored

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