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January 7, 2013 - Harry Eagar
Today, President Obama, a Democrat, nominated Chuck Hagel, a Republican, to his Cabinet.
Without doing an exhaustive search, I believe it is correct to say that all Democratic presidents, at least since Roosevelt, have had Republicans in their Cabinets; while no Republican has ever named a Democrat to his Cabinet. (But I have a nagging memory that there may have been an exception, once, for one of the lesser posts; while the Republicans in Democratic adminstrations have gotten the top positions, like Stimson at War and Dillon at Treasury, and, if confirmed, Hagel at Defense.)
Even if this statement -- Democrats appoint Republicans but never vice versa -- is not absolutely correct, it is in political essence correct. It is one of those obvious things that RtO would be happy to restate, if only someone had ever stated it before, but so far as I know, no one has.
I have for a long time considered what, if anything, this difference means.
Possibly it means that the American political landscape is by tradition conservative or rightwing, and all liberal electoral outcomes should be regarded as aberrations.
Perhaps it means that Republicans are hyperpartisan. I tend to think this is at least part of it. There has never been a Democratic McCarthy, after all.
I first became aware of the difference when I was in high school and Kennedy appointed Douglas Dillon. This was clearly a bid to calm the doubts of Wall Street and big business. There has never, however, been a bid by a Republican president to calm the doubts of workers or retirees by appointing a Democrat to Labor or Health and Human Services.
It was before my time, but Roosevelt put Stimson and Knox at War and Navy in a bid to co-opt part of the Republican Party, then in the hands of the pro-fascists at America First, for rearmament. I do not see any subsequent party line-crossing as any form of co-optation, more as palliatives against the paranoid style that Richard Hofstadter defined (See "Another Hofstadter fan," September 29, 2012) and that has been so prominent a part of Republican ideology.
Although every four years, fringists on both sides predict that "if X is elected, there will never be another election," it is true that rightwingers tend to take a more apocalyptic view of politics. Some Republicans are certain that gay marriage will lead to the destruction of the nation, but I am pretty sure no Democrats think that about straight marriage, for example.
Anyway, a lot of people think the Republican Party is on the brink (the Washington Post opinion blogs seem to be able to worry about nothing else except Robert Griffin's knee), because it seems to be unable to figure out how to manage its crazies in the Tea Party (who are just the John Birch Society without a credible communist bogeyman to wail about); while the Democrats have their crazies in hand. I propose that the next Republican president could signal both sides that craziness is out and moderation is in by appointing a bipartisan Cabinet.
But I don't expect it will happen.
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