If reports are to be believed, Hillary Clinton will accept President-elect Obama’s offer as Secretary of State. If the Washington Post is to be believed, Bill Richardson is actively seeking, and Obama is actively considering him, for Secretary of Commerce.
For those concerned about the separation of powers, or more accurately, the balance of powers, this is a little disquieting.
Why? Well, consider that Clinton is giving up a safe US Senate seat for Sec State. And Richardson passed up running for a US Senate seat that everyone–even Republicans–acknowledged that he would have won without breaking a sweat. Thus, both Hillary and Richardson–savvy politicians knowledgeable of the ways of Washington–have decided that Cabinet posts in someone else’s administration are preferable to being US Senators. The executive branch is so much more desirable than the Senate that they would rather be at-risk of dismissal and give up their political power base than remain in the legislature.
For Richardson, the choice is even more stark, because Commerce is the smallest of the Cabinet departments, and it is fair to say that no one really knows what it does or what its role is. Take a look at the Secretaries of Commerce since the office started. Only one made anything close to a significant policy contribution, and that one was Herbert Hoover (more than eight decades ago).
Maybe Hillary and Richardson has each been given, or is negotiating to be given, a particular policy brief or authority or role in the new administration. But even so, this at least serves as a data point for the proposition that the Senate as an institution has declined in very important ways. Two very significant players apparently don’t think all that highly of it, and don’t think that serving in it can really make much of a difference. What might be their reasoning? What are the causes?
In any event, to the extent that it is true, it suggests the possibility of the rebirth of an Imperial Executive apart from the egregious excesses and crimes of the Bush-Cheney-Addington era, and the relative sidelining of Congress. That is disturbing, regardless of your ideology.