The Vicious Circle of Cabinet Decay in US Politics

Let our journalists help you make sense of the noise: Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily newsletter and get a recap of news that matters.


Keith Humphreys describes how Washington has changed in the era of the supercharged White House staff and the relentless marginalization of cabinet secretaries. Imagine, he says, that the president has just appointed you to a cabinet position:

You come to Washington D.C. wanting to launch what you think is a terrific new initiative and some Jonah Ryan-type staffer who is just learning how to shave says there is no space for your stupid idea in the President’s budget. You are officially obligated to vigorously defend your boss’s budget, but your chief policy advisor, who used to work for Senator Backslap, hints obliquely that he’d be happy to pass along your quiet support for the initiative on Capitol Hill, where it has a good shot of attracting budgetary support despite the President’s opposition.

You know you should resist. But then you think of the look on the face of that smartassed little wanker who is half your goddamn age and how he and the other countless snot-nosed whippersnappers at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue are always blaming you in the press when the white house staff screw up, and you say to your policy advisor, “Well (cough) if the Senator really supports my — I mean the — initiative, then (cough), obviously it’s the Congress that writes the budget and if (cough), they choose to go forward I would of course fulfill my responsibilities to (cough) execute their wishes enthusiastically.”

If the White House discovers your treachery, they will say “See, we cannot trust these people. Let’s hire more staff and bring more cabinet functions into the building where we can control them”. This bureaucratic response leads cabinet members to become so impotent and so distrusted that they contribute little to the administration and feel resentful towards it, feeding the cycle further.

I don’t have anything to add to this, really. I just enjoyed reading it and thought I’d pass it along. However, it certainly reinforces my bafflement that anyone in their right mind would accept a cabinet position outside of the Big Four these days. Sure, I guess it will look good in your obituary some day, but other than that, what’s the point?

SIX TRUTHS

Reclaiming power from those who abuse it often starts with telling the truth. And in "This Is How Authoritarians Get Defeated," MoJo's Monika Bauerlein unpacks six truths to remember during the homestretch of an election where democracy, truth, and decency are on the line.

Truth #1: The chaos is the point.

Truth #2: Team Reality is bigger than it seems.

Truth #3: Facebook owns this.

Truth #4: When we go to work, we're in the fight.

Truth #5: It's about minority rule.

Truth #6: The only thing that can save us is…us.

Please take a moment to see how all these truths add up, because what happens in the weeks and months ahead will reverberate for at least a generation and we better be prepared.

And if you think journalism like Mother Jones'—that calls it like it is, that will never acquiesce to power, that looks where others don't—can help guide us through this historic, high-stakes moment, and you're able to right now, please help us reach our $350,000 goal by October 31 with a donation today. It's all hands on deck for democracy.

payment methods

SIX TRUTHS

Reclaiming power from those who abuse it often starts with telling the truth. And in "This Is How Authoritarians Get Defeated," MoJo's Monika Bauerlein unpacks six truths to remember during the homestretch of an election where democracy, truth, and decency are on the line.

Truth #1: The chaos is the point.

Truth #2: Team Reality is bigger than it seems.

Truth #3: Facebook owns this.

Truth #4: When we go to work, we're in the fight.

Truth #5: It's about minority rule.

Truth #6: The only thing that can save us is…us.

Please take a moment to see how all these truths add up, because what happens in the weeks and months ahead will reverberate for at least a generation and we better be prepared.

And if you think journalism like Mother Jones'—that calls it like it is, that will never acquiesce to power, that looks where others don't—can help guide us through this historic, high-stakes moment, and you're able to right now, please help us reach our $350,000 goal by October 31 with a donation today. It's all hands on deck for democracy.

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate