Biden's Cabinet Is a Paean to DC's Toxic Ladder-Climbing Culture

Marco Rubio is right

When former South Bend, Indiana mayor Pete Buttigieg first emerged onto the political scene in 2019, he seemed like a lab creation. His credentials are undoubtedly impeccable — he’s a Rhodes Scholar who graduated from both Oxford and Harvard, he speaks seven languages, worked at a high-level corporate consulting firm, plays multiple instruments, and served in the military — and he’s still not even 40 years old!

It could be argued that Pete Buttigieg has wanted to be President of the United States from a very early age, which may help explain his lengthy resume at such a young age. An Associated Press profile of the presidential candidate interviewed South Bend residents who knew Buttigieg since he was a child, and none of them were surprised when the millennial mayor declared his candidacy in 2019. He notably enlisted in the military in 2009, long after it was revealed that Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction. He was a naval intelligence officer, meaning he could one day add “veteran” to his resume without ever having to actually see combat.

Lee Carter, a veteran of the United States Marine Corps currently serving his second term in the Virginia House of Delegates, cast doubt on claims that Buttigieg was ever in harm’s way while deployed in Afghanistan.

Slate’s Ashley Feinberg noted that someone — the Buttigieg campaign insisted it wasn’t the candidate himself — has been very attentive to Buttigieg’s Wikipedia page since 2010, long before he attained national celebrity status. This includes updating the page for “notable Rhodes Scholars” to include Buttigieg, described as the “mayor-elect of South Bend, Indiana,” just one day after Buttigieg won the mayoral race.

But this isn’t a post about Pete Buttigieg, though his name has been floated as a potential cabinet appointee. It’s about the dangers of plucking names for a presidential cabinet from the LinkedIn set.

  • Potential Secretary of State Tony Blinken is a graduate of both Harvard (undergrad) and Columbia (law school). He was President Obama’s Deputy Secretary of State for his final two years in office.

  • Avril Haynes, whom Biden has tapped to be the next Director of National Intelligence, is a graduate of the University of Chicago (undergrad) and Georgetown (law school). She was President Obama’s Deputy National Security Adviser during his final two years in office.

  • Homeland Security pick Alejandro Mayorkas graduated from UC-Berkeley and then went to law school at Loyola. LAist reported that Mayorkas “grew up in Beverly Hills after his family fled Cuba for the U.S. when he was an infant.” 14 paragraphs into an LA Times article from 2015, it’s casually mentioned that Mayorkas’ father owned a steel wool factory in Cuba prior to the Cuban Revolution (Beverly Hills is also one of America’s richest ZIP codes).

  • While he hasn’t been named yet, The American Prospect is reporting that Brian Deese, a managing director at BlackRock (the world’s largest asset management firm) is a top contender to chair the National Economic Council. Deese was also a senior adviser to President Obama during his final two years in office.

By all accounts, these candidates are all well-educated, experienced, and have impeccable credentials. Biden’s cabinet so far has been celebrated by liberals as a refreshing return to normalcy, free of any of the celebrities, reality TV personalities, or Trump family members as was often the case with President Trump’s inner circle.

But handing over the keys to the overly ambitious resume-padders from good families who graduated from elite institutions and rub elbows with other elitists is exactly what led to Donald Trump’s election in 2016. Repeating the same patterns lends credibility to the theory that an even worse version of Trump could follow in Biden’s footsteps.

So while I don’t agree with the jingoistic and xenophobic second half of Senator Marco Rubio’s (R-Florida) Tuesday tweet about the Biden cabinet, the first half is a spot-on assessment of the President-elect’s executive branch so far.

“Biden’s cabinet picks went to Ivy League schools, have strong resumes, attend all the right conferences & will be polite & orderly caretakers of America’s decline,” Rubio tweeted.

There are numerous theories as to why Donald Trump — who was an unemployed reality TV host at the time of his election — triumphed over Hillary Clinton, who was a former Secretary of State and two-term US Senator with a significant fundraising advantage and an abundance of institutional support. Russia certainly preferred Trump to Clinton. James Comey’s October 28 letter to Congress about Clinton’s email server may have played a role.

Clinton herself may have killed her chances at winning, given her failure to motivate just 77,000 more voters in Democratic Rust Belt strongholds like Detroit, Milwaukee, and Philadelphia to show up. On the flipside, maybe 77,000 more racists were motivated to vote for Trump in Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin given the Trump campaign’s overt white nationalist undertones.

But to me, the one theory that makes the most sense is more simple: Barack Obama’s eight-year tenure failed to materially improve the lives of working-class people across America. In January of 2016, the Wall Street Journal reported that 93% of US counties still hadn’t recovered from the Great Recession that hit at the start of the Obama presidency. By the end of the Obama presidency, corporate profits were hitting consistent record highs, while at the same time, labor’s share of corporate profits still hadn’t rebounded to pre-recession levels.

(Corporate profits before, during, and after the Great Recession. Chart by St. Louis Fed)

(Labor share of profits before, during, and after the Great Recession. Chart by St. Louis Fed)

Essentially, Trump’s election and subsequent reckless appointments of highly unqualified cabinet officials dedicated to destroying the agencies they were tasked with overseeing, federal judges deemed unqualified by the American Bar Association, and senior advisers from Breitbart and Fox News, was inherently a rejection of the institutional beltway culture that defined the Obama presidency.

President-elect Biden appears to be content with selecting his cabinet appointees from a pool of Obama administration veterans with elite educational backgrounds and lengthy LinkedIn profiles. They’ll hopefully be thoroughly questioned in their confirmation hearings, and if confirmed, I’m willing to give them the benefit of the doubt to see what policies they’ll enact.

But if Biden and his Ivy League cabinet squanders the mandate the American electorate gave him in November and fails to address soaring inequality, the student debt crisis, and the coming climate catastrophe, America will replace him with a younger, more competent Donald Trump. And that would be game over for not just America, but the world itself.

(Secretary of State nominee Antony Blinken speaks at a November 24 press conference. Photo: Screenshot/YouTube/fair use)