Bush Cabinet has Washington savvy, pragmatic mold. Top Democrats see President-elect as wanting a bipartisan approach
Washington — Exit: Ronald Reagan, government basher. Enter: George Bush, government stroker.
As the President leaves office lambasting the ``Washington colony,'' the President-elect is sending signals that suggest he will be more accommodating. His overtures to Congress, fence-mending with political rivals and special-interest groups, and Cabinet lineup all suggest that the country could be in a for a new era of conciliation and bipartisanship.
``It's a strange phenomenon that the Bush administration may wind up being more popular with the Democratic majority on the Hill and less so with Republicans,'' says John Sears, a former Reagan campaign official and GOP consultant.
With only one appointment still to be made at this writing (secretary of energy), Mr. Bush has put together a Cabinet characterized by a number of features:
There are relatively few ``new kids on the block.'' Most of the department nominees have substantial Washington experience, having been involved either with the Reagan administration or previous Republican administrations. So there will be continuity and less time wasted getting acquainted with the issues and processes of government.
By contrast with Mr. Reagan's cabinets, which reflected some sharp internal differences of view, the Bush Cabinet is comprised largely of people of pragmatic, centrist, more moderate orientation like Secretary-of-State-designate James Baker III. There should, therefore, be more unanimity of thinking.
The selection of Jack Kemp to be secretary of housing and urban development is a concession to the conservative right and to ``Main Street'' Republicanism (Kemp ardently urges dealing with poverty and other urban problems). But many key players, including Secretary of the Treasury Nicholas Brady and Commerce Secretary-designate Robert Mosbacher are more Wall Street-style Republicans, who are skeptical of the right. Many were also children of privilege, educated in elite schools and Ivy League colleges.
The Cabinet and Cabinet-level appointments have diversity and mix. There are two women (Carla Hills as US special trade representative and Elizabeth Dole as secretary of labor), one black (Dr. Louis Sullivan as secretary of health and human services), and two Hispanics (Lauro Cavazos as secretary of education and Rep. Manuel Lujan as secretary of the interior). There are also a number with experience in the Congress, including Representative Lujan; former Rep. Edward Derwinski, who will be secretary of veterans affairs; and former Sen. John Tower, named to be secretary of defense).
Some political analysts suggest that there is a two-tier Cabinet, with white males named to the dominant positions and women, a black, and other minorities filling posts that traditionally have less influence and power.
``There's an `inner Cabinet' and `outer Cabinet,''' says presidential scholar Thomas Cronin, who uses these phrases in his book ``The State of the Presidency.'' ``Bush knows his inner circle well but not the others as much.''
Mr. Bush bridled when asked about this at a recent news conference.
``I think that's crazy,'' the President-elect said. ``Absolutely absurd. And I think it's denigrating to the labor movement to suggest that, the health problems of this country to suggest that, the great conservation problems of this country to suggest that, and all the great transportation needs of the country to suggest that....''
However the lines of influence emerge, Bush has picked people who are problem-solvers and do not view government with distaste. ``The Cabinet is based on people who are much like Bush himself - they have an interest in governing,'' comments Roger Porter, a former Reagan aide.
Although the conservative right is worried that Bush may become too accommodating, the President-elect has won widespread bipartisan approval of his Cabinet choices and more benign approach to government.
``The mean-spiritedness of the campaign is not the real Bush,'' says Dr. Cronin, a Democrat. ``If you read the George Bush that ran in '80 he's not a strident, grandstanding ideologue.''
Democratic lawmakers, for their part, are making conciliatory noises, voicing hope the Bush administration will open the way for more bipartisanship.
``Fundamentally the difference will be a basic regard and respect for the legislative branch on the part of Mr. Bush,'' House Speaker Jim Wright said recently. ``He's more inclined to be accommodating and practical than rigid and inflexible and ideological.... Mr. Bush is wise enough to choose things that work and I think he's wise enough to listen.''
A Washington insider virtually his whole life, Bush clearly has thought about Cabinet government and how it should function. For example, he has removed the posts of UN ambassador and director of the Central Intelligence Agency from the Cabinet ranks.
During the campaign and since, he has also conveyed a respect for public servants, an attitude which is expected to affect appointments to sub-Cabinet and lower-level posts, including assistant secretaries. President Reagan sparked criticism from moderate Republicans as well as Democrats both because he made such a large number of political appointments, and because the individuals picked were often ideologues who had little professional knowledge and rode roughshod over the bureaucracy.
There are indications that the Bush presidency will operate differently. For instance, Chase Untermeyer, Bush's aide in charge of personnel, has met with Elliot Richardson, a former Cabinet officer, and others interested in bolstering the civil service, which has been suffering erosion and demoralization.