By now, most of President-elect Reagan's choices for Cabinet are well in hand, but as a favor to future presidents, we might want to compile a list of criteria a president should use in Cabinet selection -- as defined by syndicated columnists this time.
1. Never choose a friend (also referred to as Political Incest).
A president-elect has presumably spent many years cultivating a broad range of personal, professional and polticial relationships. However, when it comes to actually choosing a Cabinet, all that has happened before must be seen in a new light. Loyalty throughout the long struggle to reach the White House is no longer an asset -- the day after the election it becomes a liability. It implies that an individual cannot objectively serve the interests of the nation, which are of course distinct from the interests of the president.
It was once observed that our presidents need to be invited to "go soak their heads" more often. The conventional wisdom now tells us that a friend, intimately acquainted with the president as a person , and unawed by the office, is incapable of issuing such an invitation. Instead, we prefer that the president be surrounded by passing acquaintances who know him only as "Mr. President." There is every reason to believe that such individuals, as opposed to friends, would be more inclined to disagree with the most powerful man in America.
2. They must be clean (the Virgin Mary Snydrome).
Unlike common people, Cabinet officers must be devoid of original sin. They are permitted no slight prior indiscretion, nor any tactical errors, nor the cardinal sin of having obeyed an order. They must have granted no favors, nor owed any; they must have arrived at their station in life without having stepped on any toes in the process; they must never have spoken ill of anyone; and they must be friends of all -- except for the president (see Rule 1). They must scour their backgrounds -- to be certain that there is nothing in the past that will shame a new administration. We want our Cabinet not to be as good as ourselves, but far, far better.
3. They should have experience without attachment (Catch-22 Revisted).
While we would like our Cabinet officers to have extensive government experience, we would prefer that they not have served in a previous administration. The problem is that prior administrations often have records, and these records often contain failures. In judging an individual's past performance, we should take care to concentrate on his or her role in a previous failure because, while mistakes are apparently repeated, successes are not. If a president chooses veteran Cabinet officers, he invites claims of "cloning his predecessor"; if he brings in inexperienced personnel he runs a "government by amateurs." The task is to find people with top-level government experience who have not served within top levels of government. Such people abound everywhere, and it is a simple task for the president-elect to find them.
4. They cannot want it (Ambition -- from Vice to Virtue).
In most professional environments, ambition is a virtue. In the Cabinet, it becomes a vice. We all know that they are in it for the fame, glory and wealth. What else could lead an individual to bear the crippling pressure of Cabinet work, the long days away from home, the relentless attention of an often hostile media, the severe strains on family life and the below-corporate-average Cabinet salaries. Surely, patriotism and dedication to the national welfare could not lead such persons to seek high office. Supreme confidence in their ability to contribute would not move reasonable people to give up the comfort of private life. No, it is clear that these people are out for themselves -- and for the ambitious, the Cabinet is the road to health, wealth and long life. There can be no credence to the adage that while ambition itself is a vice, it is often the parent of virtue. The great patriots who built this nation are all gone, replaced by men and women of selfish ambition.