Too Pooped To Preside


February 07, 1993|By DAVE BARRY

Allow me to be the first professional news commentator to point out that the Clinton administration has failed. Look at the evidence. Bill Clinton has been president for over two weeks now, and:

* The national debt is still enormous.

* The world is still rife with oppression, famine and genocide.

* George Steinbrenner is still at large.

The time has come to ask: What went wrong? How could failure have come so quickly to Bill Clinton, who started out with so much promise, so many ideas, such a large volume of hair? As is so often true with great historical issues, we will not truly know the answer until we read the next sentence.

The answer is, Clinton wore himself out selecting his Cabinet. Previous presidents didn't waste a lot of energy on this task. They appointed Cabinet members pretty much at random from a small pool of wealthy, golf-playing white males, replacing them as they became indicted. Nobody cared who the specific appointments were. (Ronald Reagan had to wait for the World Almanac to be published to find out who was in his Cabinet.)

It didn't matter who the appointees were, because under our constitutional system of government, most Cabinet members have no actual duties other than to pose for their official oil portraits. The only Cabinet members with responsibilities beyond that are:

* The secretary of state, who is required to fly to the Middle East every three weeks to deliver a historic peace initiative.

* The secretary of the treasury, who signs all the money.

* The surgeon general, who treats the blisters on the secretary of the treasury's hand.

I bet you can't name one newsworthy thing that a Cabinet member has done since Gerald R. Ford's secretary of agriculture and rocket science, Earl Butz, decided that it would be a good idea to tell a bad ethnic joke to a reporter. Sure, sometimes in the news you see photo opportunities of the president sitting with his full Cabinet around a big table, everybody frowning and looking important, but you never hear what actually goes on in these meetings:

President: OK, so we want, let's see . . . 14 jelly doughnuts and nine powdered sugar, am I right?

Cabinet member: And a prune Danish.

President: Who the hell are you?

Cabinet member: I'm the secretary of vegetable and mineral affairs.

President (suspiciously): Let's see your Cabinet membership card. (He examines the card.) You bonehead! This expired in 1978! You were in the Carter Cabinet.

Cabinet Member: Whoops!

(General laughter.)

Then along came Bill Clinton, who owed his election to the approximately 17,000 feisty special-interest groups we like to call "the Democratic Party." Clinton could not merely select traditional random white males. Instead, he spent what seemed like the better part of 1992 in a grueling effort to select a Cabinet that, as he put it, "looks like America." Clinton was obsessed with getting the right mixture, to the point where it seemed to be more important than anything else:

Clinton: I am pleased to announce that I am appointing, to the critical Cabinet post of secretary of fisheries and hatcheries, a person who is not only a person of gender, but is also a learning-disabled diabetic Norwegian-American Southern person of partly Aleutian descent.

Reporters: What is this person's name?

Clinton: I have no idea.

So he was clearly exhausted by the Cabinet-selection process, and that was just the beginning. He also had to find appointees of the correct ethnic genders for the thousands of other key positions in the many crucial agencies that make up the vast, ever-mutating, money-sucking blob we like to call the federal government, including the Christopher Columbus Commission, the Marine Mammal Commission and, of course, the Inter-American Tuna Commission. This was a massive job. No wonder that, after all this appointing, Clinton has no energy left to be the president. I'm getting tired just thinking about it. Wake me up when it's 1996.

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