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Bill Orton
(D-Long Beach)

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Going Beyond a Single Word
by Bill Orton

February 20, 2008 -- The mantra of "change" has become so wrapped up in the rhetoric of this presidential campaign that the word itself is beginning to lose its meaning through overuse.

Clearly, candidates of the two major parties differ radically on taxes, the economy, health care, energy and national security.

Republicans promote making permanent tax cuts that favor the rich and continuing a Hundred Years War while Democrats talk of delivering health coverage to ordinary Americans and weaning our nation from foreign oil and foreign wars.

But with Super Tuesday behind us and the nomination fight in each party nearing a close, it's time to go beyond the emptiness of a single word to instead show the sort of change our next President will pursue once in office.

In my eyes, the Democratic nominee will be the gentleman from Illinois. Sen. Clinton's campaign is in freefall. As she escalates her negative campaigning, the reward is a erosion or outright shift in support among working class voters and women. People who were soft on her are peeling to join undecideds in breaking for Mr. Obama. Her money is drying up and becoming less effective on a cost-per-vote basis as his fundraising sets records. This is a campaign in freefall.

So looking beyond this race to the transition and governance, nothing better reveals the path a president might pursue then to see who they would choose to serve in the Administration. The naming of cabinet officers embodies both policy and personality and gives a true insight as to how a president would approach national security, diplomacy, the economy, natural resources and the people.

It's unlikely that any candidate would lay out a list of cabinet officers before securing victory in the general election and any list would differ depending on the author.

But this humble offering is meant to show how profound a seismic shift could follow a Democratic victory in November. And by this, I mean the course pursued by President Barak Obama.

At its core is the belief that president-elect Obama would embrace bipartisanship soas to craft consensus on the issues that strike at the heart of what ails America and the world.

  • STATE: No single American better exemplifies our opportunity to unite and lead the world than Gov. Bill Richardson, of New Mexico. His skill at bridging differences to find consensus personifies John Kennedy's call that America must never negotiate out of fear but we must never fear to negotiate.
  • DEFENSE: Gen. Colin Powell spent his entire adult life ably serving America in uniform and as our chief diplomat. He knows how to move the Pentagon and is personally dedicated to the well-being of our military personnel and national security. Who better to guide American forces out of harms way while rebuilding a military decimated from seven years of strained resources, supplemental spending and unilateralism?
  • ATTORNEY GENERAL: Naming a Republican politician may seem an odd choice for so senior and sensitive a position, but Sen. Arlen Spector, of Pennsylvania, would not only return genuine independence to the Justice Department, but strengthen the hand of the new president in pursuing a legislative agenda in the congress.
  • HOMELAND SECURITY: The rush in 2001 to carry out the largest reorganization of government in 50 years created a department with little coherence, overlapping cultures and clashing missions. Sen. Susan Collins, of Maine, a moderate Republican, understands this having chaired the Senate's oversight committee on homeland security. She could muster the coalition needed to straighten out Homeland Security while keeping the department in the hands of someone who understands the threats confronting America.
  • NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISOR: The threats facing America go far beyond the rise of religious fanatacism, but that factor coupled with the risk of nuclear weapons landing in the hands of terrorists means the next president must have as National Security Advisor someone who on Day One possesses both deep knowledge and universally accepted credentials. As a former chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee and one of America's point men on non-proliferation, former Sen. Sam Nunn, of Georgia, is that person.
  • DIRECTOR OF CENTRAL INTELLIGENCE: Rep. Jane Harman, of Torrance, California, spent most of the post-9/11 era as the ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, where she was among only eight lawmakers with daily access and insight into how America fought the war on terror. Her credentials allow her to restore to the Agency a respect for congress while serving as an articulate advocate of greater support for human intelligence and the day-to-day conduct the agency's business.
  • UNITED NATIONS: The next foreign policy team must rise from the ashes of strident partisanship to become a phoenix of cooperation across party lines. Former Sen. Richard Lugar, of Indiana, is a man who would answer the call of the next President and serve as a voice of reason to the international community. The former chair of the Senate Foreign Affairs committee could help not only muster the majorities needed to conduct American foreign policy, but he would could succeed in the herculean task of leading a reform movement at the UN.
  • U.S. INFORMATION AGENCY: After eight years of partisanship, disinformation, drift and lies, America needs to return to the ideals and honesty that are the hallmark of our nation. At an earlier time, President Kennedy called on noted journalist Edward R. Murrow to head the USIA and bring about a rebirth of idealism in how America presents its message to the world. Now is time for Bob Woodward to step in to that role.
  • TREASURY: Few people understand the economy better than New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg. He is the sort of leader who could free the economy from the chains of left-right rhetoric, help streamine government and help to inspire confidence at a time of anxious markets.
  • ENERGY: Few Americans have given more to their nation as an invisible public servant than former Sen. Gary Hart, of Colorado. Since his departure from the national spotlight, he's co-chaired a national commission on terrorism (before the attacks of September 11th) and always answered the call of the President. Gary Hart can help lead us towards the transition not only from a dependence on foreign oil, but from oil itself, and to then present that program to the American people.
  • TRANSPORTATION: Dr. Geraldyne Knatz is a name little known outside the world of maritime trade, but she has headed both of the ports that comprise America's busiest seaport complex. With more than two-fifths of all of America's trade crossing those docks, Knatz knows the infrastructure skeleton that keeps America's economy moving.
  • HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES: Placing Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger as head of the largest single cabinet department puts the question of formulating a national health care plan into the hands of a man who describes himself as the world's greatest salesman. Isn't that the sort of person we need to sell the congress and America on the single greatest issue facing the nation?
  • LABOR: After being unlocked from the cabinet after his earlier service as secretary of labor, Robert Reich has spent the last decade as a leading voice of how to improve the daily fortunes of ordinary Americans. Since Frances Perkins isn't available to take up the duties, Robert Reich is the best friend American workers could have as head of the labor department.
  • COMMERCE: Who would imagine that the world's richest man and the head of the largest industrial concern would serve as a government minister in the role of booster for America's economy, but there is no single better role for Bill Gates than to serve as America's commerce secretary, helping government to break through the red tape that holds back business. Even more significantly, the gentleman playing a role similar to that of Robert McNamara -- the former chief of General Motors, the world's largest industrial concern at the time -- would show that government seeks and honors the sacrifice of our best and brightest.
  • HOUSING & URBAN DEVELOPMENT: Overcoming blights that know no city boundaries and delivering services at the community level are daily challenges for America's local leaders. Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa is well suited to help local leaders connect to a federal government that has lost touch with America's communities.
  • INTERIOR: Congressman Earl Blumeneuer, of Portland, Orgeon, is known in Washington for his unending advocacy of the bicycle and a progressive on resource management. Who better to embrace a new vision of stewarding our resources then someone who understands that humanity is but one part of the landscape.
  • AGRICULTURE: Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, of Kansas, is uniquely qualified to craft a nonpartisan heartland coalition to wean rural America from subsidies of the Big Five crops while expanding markets domestically and overseas for America's specialty and organic crops.
  • ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION: For most former national leaders, it would be inconceivable (even inconvenient) to serve in what some would consider a role so "minor" as head of the EPA, but there is no one better suited nor perhaps more inclined to lead an agency so important at such a critical moment as former Vice President Al Gore. We could only be so lucky to have him say yes if called to be head of EPA.
  • EDUCATION: The future belongs to those who understand it, yet America's education system is mired in problems and red tape that put our kids behind the eight-ball. Internet entrepreneur Reed Hastings (think, NetFlix) is more than just another gazillionairre. As a former president of the California State Board of Education, he's advocated reforming education so we are giving our kids the skills and tools they'll need in this new competitive global economy.
  • ARTS, SCIENCE & HUMANITIES: Our nation and culture are defined by those who create masterpieces of thought and vision, yet there is little room in the daily affairs of government to elevate our most creative minds. Author Toni Morrison could help to enliven our nation by serving as the first secretary to consolidate national endowments and disparate agencies into a coherent department charged with advocating those who create the works that define civilization itself.
  • VETERANS AFFAIRS: Former Sen. Max Cleland, of Georgia, gave three limbs in service to our nation while fighting in Vietnam. Who better to understand the challenges faced by service personnel returning from war or to champion the eternal promise that a grateful makes to those who wear our uniform?
  • SOLICITOR GENERAL: The person who articulates the president's positions before the Supreme Court often serves later in a higher legal role. San Francisco District Attorney Kamala Harris is ready to be America's voice in the Supreme Court and to humbly follow in the footsteps of America's greatest solicitor general, Thurgood Marshall. It's time our nation's chief lawyer actually cared about ordinary people.
If the person who wins in November truly is someone who could reach across the aisle to form a national unity government, then a list like this could become more than simply names on a page.

I don't agree with the positions and record of each person on this list, but I would be proud to live in a country where my President has the personal courage to engender a vigorous debate of confident leaders who understand the challenges facing America.

I'd like to think that the person for whom I cast my ballot in this primary would be that sort of president.

I am, an Obama voter,


Bill Orton is a writer and historian living in Long Beach, California.