Kent State professors analyze Obama’s cabinet appointments and candidates

Anthony Holloway

Obama uses ‘devil’s advocate’ approach

President Obama’s road to reform hit another pothole last Thursday after Republican Sen. Judd Gregg withdrew from his nomination for secretary of commerce.

Gregg said during a press conference Feb. 12, “It really wasn’t going to be a good fit.” According to, Gregg also cited “‘irresolvable conflicts'” when dealing with the stimulus package and the census of 2010.

Ryan Claassen, assistant professor of political science, said Gregg’s circumstance of withdrawal fit well into a cabinet selection model called the devil’s advocate model.

“There are two ways political scientists view cabinet appointments,” Claassen said. “One model is the devil’s advocate.”

The model incorporates a diverse cabinet “that you would expect to disagree with, and in doing so, when the group comes together there is an increase in the range of ideas, causing more options of solving problems,” he said.

Claassen said the other model viewed by political scientists is the “irrational preference bias of information,” which states the cabinet members are chosen for their like-mindedness rather than diversity.

“Like-minded people are to serve in the cabinet position because, by picking people you trust, you believe they have your best interest as heart,” Claassen said. “Obama has definitely gone with the devil’s advocate.”

Gregg’s withdrawal made him the fourth person to step away from contention for a spot in the new administration.

Claassen said presidents who use the devil’s advocate model tend to listen to advisers who are biased to his or her ideology, so the decision maker isn’t likely to learn anything.

Michael Lewkowicz, assistant professor of political science, said the withdrawal of former Sen. Tom Daschle is an unfortunate loss.

Daschle, according to CNN, withdrew from nomination because of issues he incurred with back taxes.

“I think it’s going to be tough without Daschle,” Lewkowicz said, “because he is a top-level senate official.

“I think they are going to have a hard time replacing him. Actually, I’m not sure who can replace him.”

Lewkowicz said the new head of health and human services would start at a disadvantage when trying to implement health care reform because of a possible ripple effect from the battle over the details of the stimulus package.

Lewkowicz said the ripple effects could be:

n The battle itself had potential to cause bad blood, which would make it difficult to pass health care reform.

n The largeness of the stimulus package could make it hard to pool for massive health care reform unless the reform is not revenue based, which is unlikely because of the size of the project.

Lewkowicz said he doesn’t think the withdrawals will affect the public opinion of Obama’s administration, though.

“Public opinion seems to be pretty high,” Lewkowicz said. “I think it’s going to take more than a few minor bumps.”

Contact news correspondent Anthony Holloway at [email protected].