Like many other politically-oriented students, I have been following the 2012 Presidential Election closely from day one. But early on in the Republican primary campaign, I wasn’t sure how to react when candidates like Governor Rick Perry called for the dissolution of three cabinet departments, albeit the third one was omitted during a debate. But it got me thinking: what would happen if these cabinet positions didn’t exist? Could it mean that an organized and systematic way to deal with things like education was out of the question? Hardly.
Rather, I began to realize that positions in the cabinet show, as my adviser likes to describe it, “what Americans think are important.” They are the priorities of our country. So, I began to wonder what kinds of factors actually make a subject a priority in this country. Is it public pressure, interest groups, the government or a combination of factors? Although I am still in the midst of my research, I hope to discover what allowed for the creation of the Department of the Interior, but did not align to create something like the Department of Food.
Many months later, the Washington Post noted that President Obama was holding his first cabinet meeting in over several months, and only his fourth during his entire term as President. Interestingly, Obama actually changed the executive structure, elevating and returning the Permanent Representative to the United Nations to a cabinet-level status. However, it seems as though President Obama never made good use of the change. This then leads to my second question: what is the point of the Cabinet? Is it meant as a rudimentary body there for show and tell? Is it supposed to simply be a body of administrators? Or, is it supposed to present the united application of policy of the President?
Obviously, answering these questions presents a daunting task. The Cabinet has developed from four departments during President Washington’s time, to twelve departments today. However, I believe that it is important to take a historical look at the Cabinet and see what history can tell us about its past, and what changes we may see in the future, and how that will affect us as both citizens and beneficiaries. Perhaps when we start to understand this elusive body, we will truly be able to understand the issues that affect our country as a whole.