A year after the exit

Ex-President Bill Clinton and members of his Cabinet and family are off to new adventures after leaving center stage.

The Clinton Alumni

January 13, 2002|By Michael Hill | Michael Hill,SUN STAFF

INSTEAD of making treaties, they are making deals. Instead of worrying about national defense, they are worrying about the defensive line. Instead of getting bills through Congress, they are racking up billable hours from their clients.

A year ago, they were playing central roles in the power play that is Washington. But now the members of President Bill Clinton's last Cabinet can only watch from the wings as the spotlight glares with maximum intensity on the stage they once occupied.

Clinton is occupying the post of former president from an office in Harlem, earning many more times the presidential salary as a speaker and author. Hillary Rodham Clinton took the unprecedented step of going from first lady to U.S. senator. Having lived in Illinois and Arkansas for most of her life, she, of course, represents New York. First daughter Chelsea is at Oxford University studying international relations.

Former Cabinet members have not exactly faded into oblivion. Two are presidents of universities who found the headlines for different reasons recently. Former Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers has perhaps the most prestigious job in U.S. academia - Harvard University president. He was involved in a brouhaha when he reportedly questioned the academic seriousness of some of African-American scholar Cornel West's work, and some of Harvard's top African-American scholars questioned Summers' commitment to diversity.

Donna E. Shalala, who left the presidency of the University of Wisconsin to head the Department of Health and Human Services, is president at the University of Miami and basked in the glow of the Hurricanes' winning a national championship with a team that won every game and sported a spotless arrest record.

Three who established foreign policy credentials and contacts - Defense Secretary William S. Cohen, Secretary of State Madeline K. Albright, and National Security Adviser Samuel R. "Sandy" Berger - formed consulting firms that focus on international deals. Albright also teaches at Georgetown University, and Cohen became a commentator on military matters for NBC after Sept. 11.

Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt, Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman and Transportation Secretary Rodney Slater joined Washington law firms where such names on the door help attract clients looking for access to government. All are in the public eye with speeches, books and commentaries.

Education Secretary Richard W. Riley joined a law firm in his home state of South Carolina, where he teaches at Furman University. Labor Secretary Alexis M. Herman took to the lecture circuit.

The siren song of the political arena has beckoned three to run for governorships - Attorney General Janet Reno in Florida, Secretary of Energy Bill Richardson in New Mexico, Housing and Urban Development Secretary Andrew M. Cuomo in New York.

Robert B. Reich, labor secretary before Herman, is running for governor in Massachusetts, while one-time Chief of Staff Erskine Bowles is in the race for Jesse Helms' Senate seat in North Carolina, and top adviser Rahm Emmanuel is running for an Illinois House seat.

Perhaps the oddest career path is that of Clinton's Commerce Secretary Norman Y. Mineta. He is Bush's secretary of transportation.

Paul S. Herrnson, director of the Center for the Study of American Politics and Citizenship at the University of Maryland, College Park, says the career path of Clinton's Cabinet follow what has become a familiar pattern.

"Some continue in public service," he says, pointing to those running for office. "Others seem to go into what we could call the nonprofit world, heading up causes. That includes becoming presidents of universities. And then some others clearly just go for the bucks, viewing it as a time to cash in on all the time they put into public service."

Tom Schaller, an assistant professor of political science at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, says that those who hope to return to Cabinet-type positions go into a holding pattern.

"Former political appointees, like windfall money in capital investment, look for shelter when times are less favorable," he says.

For the politicians, that means when the other party is in power.

"The obvious havens are academics, think tanks and public intellectual positions like writing books while they wait out the storm," Schaller says.

He says that for these people it can be a time to build up bank accounts while planning a return to relative low pay of public service.

"For so many Cabinet-level positions, the time to make money is when you are out of office," he says, pointing to former Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney as the perfect example of this. He took a job in the energy industry and made a reported $50 million before returning as vice president.

"He took a cut in pay that almost no American who is not a multimillionaire could afford to take," Schaller says.

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