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Who Could Be Fired If Obama Changes His Cabinet in Second Term?

In 2008, Barack Obama ran on the promise of change.

Proving he has delivered it - and in the right way - will be one of the key challenges he faces at this year's Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, North Carolina.

In this respect, the president may have a tough sell. Many conservative observers view President Obama as a radical trying to shift the dominant philosophy of government in the United States dramatically to the left.

On the other side, hard-line liberals of the type that empathize with the "Occupy" movement see Obama as a boring, technocratic disappointment, who has preserved some of the worst policies of the Bush administration, and sold out to corporate interests on the rest of his agenda.

Voters in the center, meanwhile, may not accept either of these skewed narratives entirely, but polls suggest that they are still disappointed with President Obama's variety of change, since it has thus far failed to induce a faster economic recovery.

Nevertheless, Obama remains stubbornly ahead in the polls, and the preponderance of current mathematical and statistical models suggest that he remains the favorite. And as in 2008, Obama is still running, perhaps too derivatively for comfort, on change.

Which raises the question: If Obama wins, what would he actually change from his first four years?

One immediate place he might start could be his cabinet. Unusually for a sitting president, many of Obama's cabinet members have transcended their role as deputies to the president himself and become national symbols of administrative malfeasance all on their own, whether it be Eric Holder's troubling association with Operation Fast and Furious, or Janet Napolitano's allegedly abusive, frat house-esque management techniques, or Steven Chu's questionably ethical advice to private actors, or Lisa Jackson's seeming inability to keep her EPA deputies from blurting out inconvenient statements. Even with a high degree of competence, this many questionable stories is a problem for a Presidency, and suggests that the people involved should be replaced with more dull, even-handed replacements who are harder to target.

We have already begun the process of looking at who Mitt Romney would put in place as part of his cabinet if he was put in power. This much shorter list will be something of the reversal of that - which cabinet members should Obama fire if he's given a second term, and why? As with our Romney cabinet list, we will divide these picks into different categories, though the categories will be different. The first set will be designated as "campaign liabilities" - the people whose unpopularity is so pervasive that it could drag the president down at the polls, while the less well-known but no less problematic ones will be listed as "governance liabilities," in other words they are people with low profiles who have alienated people Obama will need if he wants to govern successfully. Within these categories, we will further categorize individual people as the one who could be fired, the one who won't be fired, and the one who will leave.

Campaign Liabilities

The one who could be fired: Eric Holder, Attorney General

Holder has committed arguably the cardinal sin of a cabinet appointee - namely, dragging the president into a scandal that should have been limited to him. President Obama's invocation of executive privilege to shield Holder over Operation Fast and Furious has exposed the president to messy vulnerabilities regarding the scandal, but if Holder goes, the bleeding could be slowed. However, Holder maintains a visceral connection with the president's African-American supporters, and firing him could be seen as caving to racism, especially given all the cover figures like Al Sharpton have given him. He could hang on as a nod to them.

 

The one who won't be fired: Lisa Jackson, EPA administrator

Jackson's EPA is arguably responsible for the erosion of the president's polls among rust belt voters in energy-rich states. With her deputies calling for the "crucifixion" of businesses that don't comply, and saying the EPA's preferred environmental path is "painful every step of the way," not to mention Jackson's own stubborn refusal to admit that her department is at all to blame for job losses, she would seem to be a politically smart person to remove. However, given this administration's track record on environmental issues, as well as President Obama's own stubbornness on energy production via the Keystone Pipeline, it's unlikely that Jackson will be dropped. Her brand of intransigence, unlike Holder's, is not related to a universally reviled scandal, but instead to an environmental ideology which, while pretty widely reviled in some swing states, is held in esteem by the White House.

 

The one who will leave: Hillary Clinton, Secretary of State

At first blush, Hillary Clinton doesn't look like a campaign killer for Obama. Indeed, she's one of the more popular members of his administration. However, because Clinton has such a tendency to overshadow the current administration (to say nothing of her husband), it's not hard to see why the Obama team will shed few tears after seeing the back of her. With Clinton having already decided to leave, this will give Obama a chance to nominate a replacement that he can define, rather than the reverse. Whether that's a good thing will depend on your point of view.

Governance Liabilities

The one who could be fired: Janet Napolitano, Secretary of Homeland Security

Like Holder, Napolitano has critics on both sides of the ideological spectrum. Civil libertarians loathe her "Big Sis" image and defense of the TSA, while conservatives view her as a humorless ideological enforcer with contempt for the country's immigration laws. Her own staff has attacked her management style as resembling an anti-meritocratic frat house. In short, Napolitano can't keep anyone happy, and it's very difficult to see why an Obama administration would preserve her position.

 

The one who won't be fired: Timothy Geithner, Secretary of the Treasury

If Geithner leaves the White House, it will be on his terms. The Obamas fought to keep him after Geithner indicated in 2011 that he was thinking of going back to New York, indicating that the president has come to rely on the man who many see as the face of the slow economic recovery. That's a powerful argument for keeping him, even if Geithner is currently mired in a corruption scandal. The Obama administration could also be skittish about replacing their main economic adviser, especially given that, if they win, the election will be seen, at least in part, as a vindication of Obama's economic approach. As such, the president may decide that, to quote Margaret Thatcher, "this is no time to go wobbly." Keeping Geithner is many things, but it isn't wobbly.

 

The one who will leave: Steven Chu, Secretary of Energy

With many of Chu's senior staff having left last year, it's not difficult to imagine the soft-spoken Nobel Prize winner deciding that ending his tour of duty is a good plan. Chu has never appeared to harbor political ambitions, and his departure could clear the Obama administration of some of its reputation for corrupt relationships with the alternative energy world. Moreover, serving more than one term in a post like this is uncommon, unless there are serious political reasons. Chu doesn't appear to have such reasons. Finally, Chu's comments about painting roofs a particular color and getting gas prices up to the level of Europe probably wouldn't be missed around the White House communications office.

One last thing…
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