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US: ‘Power elite’ to influence next US presidential Cabinet

8th Nov 2016
US: ‘Power elite’ to influence next US presidential Cabinet

By Barry Eitel


SAN FRANCISCO, (AA): WikiLeaks has released 50,000 emails relating to Hillary Clinton which gives insight into the inner workings of her campaign.

But one in particular appears to show the influence corporations have on Cabinet appointments.

One email from Oct. 6, 2008, shows a Citigroup executive presented the team of then-candidate Barack Obama with a list of potential Cabinet members a full month before Election Day.

Once elected, Obama’s Cabinet selections closely matched suggestions from Michael Froman, who later became a top aide at the White House. He currently serves as Trade Representative for the United States.

“We have longer lists, but these are candidates whose names have been recommended by a number of sources for senior level jobs in a potential Administration,” Froman wrote in the email.

The email suggested Obama select a very diverse administration and turned out to be a very good predictor of who he would eventually appoint.

Froman suggested Eric Holder to head the Justice Department, Janet Napolitano for Homeland Security, Robert Gates at the Pentagon, Rahm Emanuel for chief of staff, Arne Duncan for Education, Eric Shinseki for Veterans Affairs, Kathleen Sebelius for Health and Human Services and Melody Barnes for the Domestic Policy Council.

Political scientist and consultant Michael Montgomery believes the email is more telling about the relationship between Froman and Obama than Citigroup’s institutional sway on the White House.

“I think it might be more accurate to think in terms of Michael Froman’s influence on the composition of the Obama Cabinet than that of Citigroup per se,” Montgomery told Anadolu Agency.

There is nothing illegal about the correspondence, according to Alan Nasser, Professor Emeritus of Political Economy and Philosophy at The Evergreen State College, Washington state.

“The Citigroup’s suggestion to Obama [regarding] Cabinet members is not illegal, as these were ‘merely’ suggestions,” Nasser told Anadolu Agency. “Cabinets are normally selected by the president under the guidance of his chief confidantes and advisors.”

-‘Power elite’-

Froman’s list followed an enduring pattern of conventional power centers, like big banks and East Coast universities, having a large influence on presidential cabinets.

“There is a long tradition of [identifying] and recruiting Cabinet and subcabinet appointees using professional and personal networks running through the Ivies as well as Wall Street law and financial firms,” Montgomery said, “with key individuals playing the role of talent spotter for different administrations seeking out potential ‘In and Outers’ who would move back and forth between government and the public sector multiple times over their careers.”

Montgomery pointed out that this pairing of presidential power with leaders of finance is the basis of what famed sociologist C. Wright Mills deemed “the power elite” and journalist David Halberstam called the “best and the brightest.” It is also what “less-astute observers” often decry as “the establishment”, he added.

And although their ranks have become more inclusive to minorities, the influence of traditional power nexuses will likely still hold whether Hillary Clinton or Republican nominee Donald Trump is elected president.

“These networks are now somewhat more inclusive but no less elite,” Montgomery believes. “Women, Jews and people of color are now a part of the network but network members still pretty much come from the ‘right’ schools and firms.”

Nearly every poll is pointing toward a Clinton victory, so many now are questioning whether her Cabinet will lean toward the “neoliberal” centrists that defined her husband’s time in the Oval Office or if she will reach out to the more progressive wings of the Democratic Party represented by high-profile lawmaker Elizabeth Warren.

Neither the Clinton campaign nor Warren’s office responded to a request for comment.

“Clinton will undoubtedly consult the people to whom she’s given paid talks, among others of like kind,” Nasser said in reference to the six-figure fees the former Secretary of State received for speeches at major financial institutions.

“She will select political soulmates,” he added.

-Outsized influence-

As for what a Clinton Cabinet may look like, Nasser believes Victoria Nuland, Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs, is a possibility for Secretary of State because of her work during recent developments in Ukraine.

Montgomery thinks former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm, a prominent “Hillary loyalist”, will likely receive an appointment, possibly at the Department of Housing and Urban Development, Health and Human Services, Education or Interior departments.

“I don’t believe that there’s room for doubt that her appointees will be ‘center right,’ i.e. right, neoliberals,” noted Nasser.

Sources within the Trump campaign revealed to NBC News likely candidates for appointees that include former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani as a heavy favorite for Attorney General; former House Speaker Newt Gingrich for Secretary of State and Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus for Chief of Staff, among others.

The NBC report highlights how Trump may award loyalty amid one of the most contentious elections in modern American history. Still, several of the potential candidates are Ivy League educated and most have strong ties to the corporate world — almost all still fit Mills’ definition of a “power elite”.

However, some observers, like former Democratic congressman Dennis Kucinich, believe it is still too early to consider who will be the next president’s top appointed advisers and any selections should happen only after the election is in the rear-view mirror.

“I think it is premature for either major party candidate to be involved in picking a Cabinet,” Kucinich told Anadolu Agency. “This is a close election and could go either way.”

The emails between Froman and Obama highlight how big banks, Wall Street firms and Ivy League intellectuals exert an outsized influence on Cabinets — an issue that will likely continue long after the 2016 election.

“Sometimes it has outraged people in very specific ways — like the Vietnam era,” said Montgomery. “Other times it is not noticed. Or, like now, it is a general grievance — people are angry about a sense the system is closed but don’t know the specifics.”

Although none of the revelations unveiled by WikiLeaks show Clinton has already selected her Cabinet, the eight-year-old correspondence between Obama and Froman hints that even presidents who appear highly progressive often take advice from the traditional pillars of power.

[Photo: United States White House. Photographer: US Marine Band]

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