The problems with Tom Daschle, and before him Timothy Geithner, and before him Bill Richardson, have ignited a thought. I spend so much of my time trying to import facets of American politics to the UK (open primaries, local referenda, party leadership debates at election time etc) that I wondered if I might tender a suggestion in the other direction.
Maybe America should have a Shadow Cabinet, so that the first 100 days of a new Administration weren't overcast with introducing new Cabinet members, and then having to withdraw them.
Brits (or at least some of them) find it somewhat strange that Barack Obama won the election on November 4th, but didn’t become President until January 20th. In the UK, if a Prime Minister loses a general election (usually about 4 am) then he is moved out of Downing Street by midday.
Now, perhaps it is easier to do this when a country is a fifth of the size of the US, but conversely, we have nothing like as developed a sense of local government (you have Governors, we have... city councillors?), so you would think we’d be the more cautious about transfer of executive power. Central Government is really the only government that does anything or any importance over here, but still we switch it from party to party in less time than in takes for a removals van to ruin some antique furniture.
So how does this all happen so fast – I think a big part of it is that we have the Permanent Civil Service, but also perhaps that we go into elections with a largely stable government-in-waiting. The Leader of the Opposition already has a Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer, a Shadow Foreign Secretary, a Shadow Home Secretary a Shadow Secretary of State for Defence. These are all given months to work with the Civil Service so that government is ready to operate with new leadership within hours of the election resutls. Would this be an advisable import for America to consider?
Obviously there are stark differences between the Presidential and Parliamentary systems, but imagine for one moment that Barack Obama had officially become the nominee in August 2007, rather than August 2008. Imagine that in the year leading up to the election, he had already selected a Shadow Treasury Secretary, a Shadow Attorney General, and a Shadow Vice President. They would be unpaid (as are the British Shadow Cabinet, except for the Leader and the Chief Whip), but would have responsibility for mastering their brief, and countering the incumbant administration more directly than is done by legislators. The process of vetting (and trial by media) could then be conducted 18 months prior to inauguration, and we would hopefully avert the last-minute crashing and burning of major political figures littering the first hundred days in the White House.
If I were in Opposition, I’d consider picking my nominee (or at least starting the primary process) shortly after the Midterms. Once selected (and I’d span it over 9 months or more), the (presumptive) nominee - pending confirmation by the Convention – would have the job of opposing the President, and would assemble his Shadow Cabinet there and then. Defeating an incumbant is tough-going – increasing the chances of a challenger, by giving them a longer run in the public eye as ‘party leader’, and allowing the public to judge them at election time by the team that they select, would (I think) be an interesting thing to see.
Opposition from the legislature is one thing, but man-to-man marking is a highly effective means of opposition. You allow for continuity in government – Cabinet already selected, pending confirmation - and avoid the withdrawing of nominees. This could even be done for Supreme Court nominations as well!
Anyway, a random thought – interested to know what people think.