As I was chomping down on a truly superb BLT sandwich at the old Knickerbocker, the waitress swung by and said, “Did you hear the news?” I thought, in mid-munch, Oh, no. (Not for nothing is this blog called “What Fresh Hell?”) Whereupon Tammy—a lovely, intelligent, and well-read lady—announced, in a stop-the-presses tone of voice: “Dashley’s in at Health and Urban Services.”
A number of elements made her remark delightful: first, that it took place in Greenwich Village, not in Washington, D.C., where appointments to the less sexy cabinet agencies are more the stuff of Are you sitting down? announcements; second, her charming mispronunciation of Mr. Daschle’s admittedly tricky surname; and finally the elision of Health and Human Services and Housing and Urban Development. (But come to think of it, indeed, why shouldn’t they be merged?)
At any rate, I found it reassuring that a waitress in lower Manhattan should be so excited about and tuned in to Mr. Obama’s appointments.
I imagine the Secretary of Wellness sitting at the cabinet table, probably well past the salt, puffing away on medical marijuana.
It was odd, on reflection, that neither of the presidential candidates proposed a new cabinet-level agency during the campaign. They almost always do, a new cabinet-level agency generally being the solution to all problems. (Appointing a “czar”—energy, Iraq, etc—is generally the fallback: a tactful way of acknowledging that your policy has officially gone into the dogs. However, now that President-elect Obama has promised us an “energy czar,” perhaps the term will take on truly bold new meaning. We could use an Ivan The Terrible-level energy czar.)
In 2004, it was Sen. Kerry who boldly proposed that he would create a “Department of Wellness.” (Really; I wrote it down.) This would have meant having a Secretary of Wellness. Secretary of Wellness! What a great title!
I imagine the Secretary of Wellness sitting at the cabinet table, probably well past the salt, puffing away on medical marijuana. The President would say, Mr. Secretary, is the nation well? And the SOW would reply, Phhhhhuppp, very well, sir. Everything is—phhhhupp—totally excellent. The only thing that might concern me would be: Where would the Secretary of Wellness come in the presidential line of succession? If Washington, D.C., were reduced to rubble in a spectacular, Tom Clancy-esque thermonuclear wet dream, and it fell to the Secretary of Wellness to lead the nation … you see the problem.
Ever since Mr. Bush led us into our adventures in Afghanistan and Iraq, I’ve thought that what we really ought to have is a Secretary of History.
If there had been one in 2003, when Mr. Bush announced his nation-building intentions in Mesopotamia, the Secretary of History, sitting at the cabinet table would have coughed softly, in the manner of Jeeves.
Yes, Mr. Secretary?
“Well, sir, if I may?”
Go ahead, Mr. Secretary.
“Well, sir, the British tried that back in the 1920’s.”
“It could not be termed an unqualified success, I shouldn’t think, sir. But of course you are the President.”
There this, too: if it did come to a Tom Clancy Armageddon scenario, we’d probably be in good hands if the Secretary of History were the only one left to lead us. He’d at least have some perspective to guide us. We’d certainly be better off with him than with the Secretary of Wellness, who’d probably be shaking his head and muttering, Whoa! What was that about?
Here are a few other cabinet-level agencies for our times:
Secretary of Indignation Job description: To register indignation—righteously, should the occasion require—on behalf of the American people. The SOI would speak for the nation when, say, the price of a barrel of oil goes above $100 a barrel, or the Dow Jones falls below, say, 5,000, or a CEO receives an $18 million bonus for bankrupting the shareholders. He/she would speak from one of those nifty (armored) blue podiums with a “Department of Indignation—Washington” medallions behind.
Requirements: Ability to pound the podium while shouting, “This will not stand!” Also to instill fear of God in stout-hearted men and Asian bankers.
Ideal physical type: Dr. Everett Koop, President Reagan’s Surgeon General and the scariest looking high government official in memory.
Secretary of Bailout Job description: SOB to coordinate on-going nationalization of U.S. industries with other new agencies, as Adam Smith’s “invisible hand” continues to gob-smack the U.S. economy.
Requirements: Ability to shrug, rub forehead, sigh, occasionally groan; to quote Gresham’s Law from memory; must be able to evince spluttering anger over idiotic U.S. CEOs who fly into Washington on lavish private corporate jets to plead for public money. (Said denunciations to be coordinated closely with Secretary of Indignation, etc.)
Secretary of Wind Job description: T. Boone Pickens. Requirements: Texan accent; trophy wife; and ability to stand up to National Audubon Society and other bird-hugging organizations who have mounted massive campaigns to convince the U.S. public that giant wind turbines have only one purpose: to shred rare, migratory birds.
Finally, and perhaps importantly, it is time we had a
Secretary of Hysteria Job description: To focus nation’s mounting worry over the economic situation and to present it to the President in a coherent, persuasive and helpful manner.
Requirements: Ability to crawl under the cabinet table during meetings, while biting the ankles of various secretaries and sobbing, “We’re all going to die! We're all going to die!”
Rank in Presidential line of succession: Near the bottom, probably.
Christopher Buckley’s books include Supreme Courtship, The White House Mess, Thank You for Smoking, Little Green Men, and Florence of Arabia. His journalism, satire, and criticism has appeared in The New Yorker, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Vanity Fair, Vogue, and Esquire. He was chief speechwriter for Vice President George H.W. Bush, and the founder and editor-in-chief of Forbes FYI.