President Obama's forthcoming nomination of White House chief of staff Jack Lew for Treasury Secretary is not sitting well with the Wall Street Journal editorial board. The Journal, in an editorial headlined "Team of Liberal Loyalists," criticizes Obama's selection of a "loyalist" for Treasury who will "advance and implement his agenda," rather than a figure who will "offer independent advice."
President Obama is expected to name Jack Lew as his Treasury secretary on Thursday, continuing his cabinet's second-term makeover in his own image. He is assembling a team of personal and ideological loyalists whose job will be less to offer independent advice than to advance and implement his agenda for a larger, more redistributionist government.
What a difference an administration can make. Back in late 2004, as the newly reelected President Bush was mulling Cabinet replacements for his second term, the Journal editorial board weighed in on potential Treasury secretaries. Looking back at his first term, they praised Bush for dumping Paul O'Neill (because he "didn't agree with the President's agenda") and replacing him with John Snow, who "has been loyal and has served honorably."
More than Defense or State, and certainly more than Homeland Security, if there's a single Cabinet post that could ruin President Bush's second term, our choice would be Treasury. So we hope the White House is doing more thinking about the position than it has exhibited so far.
Mr. Bush's first choice, Paul O'Neill, was an unguided missile who didn't agree with the President's agenda and had to be fired. Second choice John Snow has been loyal and has served honorably, though no one we know would describe him as another Andrew Mellon, or even a Robert Rubin, in terms of his clout both inside and outside the Administration. If there was any doubt about this, the nasty recent leak from someone in the White House that Mr. Snow would only be around for a few more months hardly enhanced his stature. Whether he's leaving or staying, the Secretary deserved better treatment.
The Journal did want to see a Bush Treasury Secretary with "the stature to fight the White House tendency to make economic choices for short-term political reasons," but what sort of independent, agenda-free non-loyalist did they have in mind for the position? Donald Rumsfeld. They even wrote favorably of Andrew Card who, like Lew, was chief of staff and ran "a disciplined White House." (They also worried that Card "would be perceived as the choice of the weak-dollar lobby.")
As a bonus let's take a look at Wall Street Journal editorial board member Bret Stephens' November 29, 2004, column on the role of the Cabinet. Per Stephens, the Cabinet is there to be stuffed with loyalists and used as an instrument to enact the president's agenda:
This brings us back to the current administration. George W. Bush is accused of burying cabinet government for good with his appointments of close confidantes Rice, Alberto Gonzales and Margaret Spellings. Nonsense. Contrary to Andrew Sullivan, a cabinet is not something a president governs with; and contrary to Andrew Jackson, it is not something a president governs around. Ideally, a cabinet is what a president governs through. Now that Mr. Bush has moved his own people into the cabinet, he may at last be able to do just that.