What's missing from Obama's cabinet?

Barack Obama's emerging Cabinet has been noted for its diversity. He has taken great pride in having selected a Cabinet in record time ( well, since he considered himself a shoe-in for the Presidency many months ago, maybe this should not come as such a surprise) but the spectrum of his choices has also elicited comment.

Bloomberg News   notes the composition of the Cabinet is a wish list for diversity trainers:

With Bill Richardson as commerce secretary, Hilda Solis as labor secretary and Ken Salazar as interior secretary, Obama has picked more Hispanics than Clinton or Bush.

Bush named five women in his first Cabinet, while Obama ties Clinton with four. Obama has also named several women to White House posts and to head agencies -- Mary Schapiro will lead the Securities and Exchange Commission, Christina Romer will head the Council of Economic Advisers and Melody Barnes will direct his Domestic Policy Council.

All politically correct which is what one can come to expect from the first President who has used the term “First Americans” to describe Native Americans.

I am sure that Barack Obama cringes if he ever thinks how politically incorrect it was to refer to his grandmother’s problematic views towards African-Americans as being reflective of the views of a “typical white person”.

Also, there seems to have been a political strategy at work: reward your friends and consider the future elections.

Obama has mostly picked current and former lawmakers from states that helped win him the presidency. Some appointees were named even though they supported Hillary Clinton during the primary battle, including Clinton herself.

Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack, who campaigned unsuccessfully for Clinton, is Obama’s choice for agriculture secretary; Solis was also a Clinton backer.

Obama has chosen past and present lawmakers from Colorado, New York, California, Illinois, Iowa and New Mexico -- all states that went for him.

This policy should not come as a shock. After all, Barack Obama comes from Chicago where pay to play is a politicall maxim and patronage politics is a form of art. Indeed, Chicago (and Illinois) may be the apotheosis of patronage politics. The machine-whether in Republican or Democrat hands-makes sure to send a message: support is rewarded.

Some of these Cabinet choices hail from states that were crucial to Barack Obama’s victory. He also needs to ensure  that his base of support in these states is solid for upcoming elections where he hopes to elect more Democrats to office to further his own agenda (undoubtedly, he is also considering his own reelection prospects four years out).

But there may be even more nuance at work. Barack Obama faced some resistance from women who supported Hillary with the hope that a woman would finally be elected President. By appointing her as Secretary of State, he helps to defuse this lingering issue.

Furthermore, he is no doubt aware that the nation is increasingly moving towards a majority-minority demographic. This is the state of affairs when minorities (non-Caucasians) collectively are more numerous and politically important than Caucasians.  He has the African-American vote all but assured and by appointing Hispanics to the Cabinet, he bolsters his own support among this fast-rising demographic group that is so important in states with a high number of electoral votes.

His choices have been politically correct in more ways than one.

But there is one demographic that seems to have left out: businessman. There is no one on the Cabinet that has any sort of notable business experience whatsoever.

Obama, who campaigned as an advocate for Main Street against the influence of lobbyists and special interests, hasn’t staffed his Cabinet with a single person who has executive business experience. The depth of executive mostly rests with those who ran states: three current and former governors.

“It is a void that the folks that the president-elect has selected seem to be overly biased toward government service or regulatory activities,” said Peter Morici, a business professor at the University of Maryland.

This is not a good sign.

America is in economic distress-however one cares to characterize our problems. We need to restore the confidence of business that America will be a safe and welcoming place to invest for the future. Barack Obama has taken some small steps to help : appointed Ron Kirk-a free-trader-to be his trade representative. He has removed his proposal for a windfall tax (a misnomer) on energy companies from his website, and seems amenable to keeping the “Bush tax cuts” in place until they expire in 2010. And his anti-NAFTA rhetoric is gone.

But he needs to do more to give people a sense that he views business as a partner and not an adversary. More financial regulation may be necessary-particularly in the area of hedge funds and the regulation of complex financial instruments. Even more importantly, enforcement of existing laws needs to be made a priority.

His Cabinet picks in the area of Labor, Energy and the Environment are sending a message that a raft of regulations are going to be directed at American business. While pleasing to academia-where Barack Obama hails from-and Democratic interest groups, these will probably prove to be impediments to growing the economy.

Saddling  American business with a regulatory regime that chokes off growth is not the type of remedy we need now. Barack Obama should have considered at least adding a couple of businessmen to the Cabinet-at least for his first term when restoring a sense of confidence in the business community  is so important.

Unfortunately, given the choices Barack Obama has made, this seems to be the type of drastic “cure” that may very well bring great harm to the patient.