Name Game in Full Swing As a New Cabinet Looms
Insiders insist: Don't believe what you read, since names of serious candidates are not being leaked
RON BROWN as the next secretary of state?Skip to next paragraph
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The suave chairman of the Democratic National Committee may not have any foreign policy experience, but if he can bring the fractious Democrats together, why not the world's bitter tribes?
Or what about Sen. Richard Lugar of Indiana, a Republican? What better way for President-elect Clinton to show bold bipartisanship?
Some names are more plausible than others, but all the names floated for the powerful posts have one characteristic in common: They have little or nothing to do with the actual choices under way by the transition team.
For all the speculation about who is in line for what, the people in a position to know are remarkably close-mouthed. News leaks from transition officials have been something between minimal and nonexistent.
Still, this is the season of the name game. Some of it is sheer speculation for the sport of it, based on President-elect Clinton's networks and the logic of his situation. Some of it is advocacy.
Most of it, according to people who have worked in past transitions, means nothing. "None of it comes from leaks. None of it," says Mark Siegel, a Democratic consultant who worked on cabinet selection in Jimmy Carter's transition and talks to some Clinton transition staff.
"When you're actually in there," says the Brookings Institution's Stephen Hess, who worked in Republican administrations from Eisenhower through Ford, "it makes absolutely no difference to you whatsoever."
That includes all the ambitious would-be policybrokers who start a drumbeat of mentions of their favored candidates' names to impress insiders. "You can smell a campaign" for an appointment, says Mr. Siegel, "and the odor is not pleasant."
"Sometimes it irritates you, sometimes it amuses you," Mr. Hess says, "but you just don't get names like that."
One of the earliest efforts was made by Victor Kamber, a Democratic lobbyist and political consultant. In an August newsletter, Mr. Kamber laid out a "short list" of possibilities for a Clinton Cabinet. Many of the guesses were not implausible, but they also happened to be heavy in Kamber clients, from Rep. Les Aspin (D) of Wisconsin as secretary of defense to Los Angeles lawyer Charles Manatt as secretary of the treasury to a couple of union presidents as secretary of labor.
Bruce Kozarsky of the Kamber Group admits that the mentions are probably not influencing Mr. Clinton's choices. "In some cases, it could help. In some cases, it could hurt a candidate."
Some trace the mention of Mr. Brown for secretary of state to his own Democratic National Committee (DNC). One Democrat says officials there said they were told to say they had heard he was under consideration. But it's just not true, maintains DNC spokesman Jim Desler.
Some of the speculation is what Hess calls "too clever by half." The supposed rationale for appointing Senator Lugar to the State Department would include the benefit of luring him out of the Senate so that the Democratic governor of Indiana could appoint a Democrat to replace him.
Another Republican often mentioned for the Clinton Cabinet is former New Jersey Gov. Tom Kean as secretary of education. Clinton and Mr. Kean were both strong education reformers as governors, and their positions are probably compatible, despite their party difference.
Yet, the education post is usually considered an outer cabinet position, therefore a prime opportunity to repay a political debt or make a statement, Hess says. Why waste it on a Republican?
The most mainstream speculation is based on Clinton's campaign and transition staffs. Transition press secretary Dee Dee Myers, for example, is the likeliest suspect for White House press secretary. If transition communications director George Stephanopoulos is not White House communication director two months from now, he will likely be something very similar.
Siegel recalls that under President Carter, choosing cabinet members was separate from other transition operations. And once cabinet members were chosen, they were on their own to run their departments and choose their deputies as they saw fit. The result, he says, was chaos.
He now believes that a transition process should clarify what cabinet departments are to do before it is decided who should do it. Policy should come before personnel, he says, and ideology before friendship. So far, the Clinton team appears to be working that way, he adds. More than any other in recent memory, he says, this transition is going to choose people on merit and lean to unconventional choices, many of them from state governments.