Friday, November 21, 2008

President's Friday: (Mostly) Arcane Methods of Naming Cabinet Officials

With all of the tempest surrounding the Obama administration's cabinet deliberation process, I thought it would be instructive to look back and note some of the more peculiar and (mostly) arcane methods that our Presidents have used.

George Washington: Many of our presidents made the cabinet-picking process a competitive endeavor (see Abraham Lincoln for a particularly novel approach), and most historians agree that they wanted to follow what they felt was a precedent set by George Washington. Rather than having his potential cabinet members submit to the then-popular sport of hoop-rolling, Washington ingeniously tested his men at fox-hunting. Those who fared best were summarily executed, because fox-hunting was a British passtime. Only four men out of seventy remained: Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton, Henry Knox and Edmund Randolph. They were quickly named, respectively, Secretary of State, Secretary of the Treasury, Secretary of War, and Attorney General. Due to personnel restrictions and then budgetary concerns, the office of Secretary of Homeland Security would remain unfilled for over two hundred years.

Andrew Jackson: "Old Hickory" simply asked his potential cabinet members to outrun a bullet, fired by him. Consequently, Hamilton did not have a cabinet and thus simulataneously served as President, Vice President, Secretary of War, Indian-tamer, and man about town. He is said to be the first president to order an invasion of Florida in the morning and cut the ribbon at a Woolworth's in the afternoon.

Abraham Lincoln: Infamous among his peers as a bellicose, lusty figure, Lincoln submitted his candidates to five-minute rounds of grease-wrestling. Those to best him won a cabinet position and his unending respect. Contrary to the popular notion, Lincoln's wasn't a team of rivals so much as a team-of-those-who-beat-Lincoln-at-grease-wrestling.

Grover Cleveland: The immortal Phoenix, blazing red and gold in the afternoon sun, landed in Washington D.C. to witness Grover Cleveland's inauguration. It remains the last time the mythical bird was spotted in America. It flapped its monstrous wings and loosed a barrage of man-sized eggs from a pouch on its underside. Those hatchlings that the Phoenix didn't eat were named to Cleveland's cabinet.

Theodore Roosevelt: Having inherited a cabinet from the assassinated President McKinley, Roosevelt was stuck. Daily he was plagued by drunken roustabouts clamoring to make currency out of spoken words and war with Missouri. He was lucky, then, to find that McKinley wagered and lost his entire cabinet in a game of poker to a mustache-twirling railroad tycoon. With McKinley's former cabinet now serving Wilmington Snarkworth Snedley and his dastardly sons, Roosevelt was free to name his own cabinet. Summarily, the starting lineup of the St. Louis Browns was named, collectively, Secretary of Labor.

Jimmy Carter: Rendered insane by syphillis and lead poisoning, Carter named the most virile hogs from his pigfarm to cabinet. Snuffles, Carter's foul-tempered Tamworth swine (a trusted confidant from the early days), continued after Carter's ouster to serve as Secretary of the Interior, with distinction, under Ronald Reagan.

George H.W. Bush (shadow government cabinet): Not much is known of Bush's shadow cabinet save codenames salvaged from a pile of cryptic letters meant to be burnt in 1989, but we think that Squarepusher was Secretary of 3rd World Insurgencies. Recent scholarship suggests that Squarepusher was indeed Chiquita Brands International CEO Carl Lindner, Jr.

So what might we expect from an Obama cabinet? I'll leave it to fate's machinations. But let's not be surprised if his decisions are ruled by paranoia and jealousy, and if few of his cabinet members outlive the administration!


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