Public Comment

A Proposal for a Peoples' Cabinet

Gar Smith
Friday March 04, 2016 - 05:24:00 PM

Democratic elections are a wonderful social invention. Every four years, US voters can cast a ballot for a president and vice-president. But that comes down to a choice of just two individuals who may—or may not—represent the voter's best hopes, dreams, and core values. Perhaps it's time for a bold, new experiment.

Under the prevailing two-party system, many immensely popular crusaders will never make it onto a two-person presidential ticket. (Sometimes these outliers run as independents, like Ross Perot and General James Stockdale, or Green Party candidates Ralph Nader and Winona LaDuke.)

While Bernie Sanders has been hailed as one of the most authentic candidates ever to seek the White House, many Democrats—while they admire his free-college-education, big-bank-busting policies—continue to daydream about alternative realities: What if Elizabeth Warren had chosen to run? What if a younger, more charismatic radical were leading Bernie's call for a populist "revolution" against Wall Street and the American Oligarchy?


Despite"> a host of national polls that show Sanders leading Hillary Clinton and topping Donald Trump and other GOP candidates, Bernie's critics continue to question his electability. He is, after all, an older, Jewish, white guy with "bad hair" who can come across as a grumpy old scold. And Camp Clinton would have you believe, Sanders suffers from a lack "experience" that would hobble his ability to accomplish needed reforms. 

But what if Sanders were to do something really radical and unprecedented? What if he were to announce that he was running, not as an individual, but as part of a full-fledged, hit-the-ground-running slate of progressive reformers? 

What if voters were told—in advance—the names of every individual Sanders intends to nominate to head every critical post in the his new cabinet? Suddenly, instead of supporting a single candidate, each ballot would be cast for a broad coalition of well-vetted, talented and experienced reformers—Team Bernie! 

Instead of placing Election Day hopes on a single ray of Sanders' Sunshine, the creation of a Peoples Cabinet would convene an entire constellation of stellar activists—all working collectively to push Bernie's revolution into hyperdrive. 

After all, a real revolution involves more than a single leader. An idea only becomes a revolution when inspiration gives rise to growing crowds of enthusiastic game-changers. 

Think of it: Instead of just casting a ballot for a President and VP, the next national election could become a vote for top-to-bottom, institutional reform. Announcing a Peoples Cabinet in advance would provide voters with a clearer understanding of the kind of government they hope to elect. Let people know who—and what—they are voting for. Such an approach could electrify voter enthusiasm, kick-starting even wider support. 

Sanders has called for "a peoples' campaign." What could be more "revolutionary" than announcing a Peoples Cabinet? A "Team Bernie" of charismatic activists that would make the Sanders "revolution" manifest. 

In today's interconnected world, it might even be possible for a Peoples' Cabinet to be selected by popular vote (imagine a political version of "The Voice"). 

For Democrats, the election wouldn't be about voting for Hillary or Bernie. It would become a larger vote on the core members of an entire new administration. A Peoples' Cabinet would have Bernie's back—a Guardians of the Galaxy super-combo, committed to safeguarding the planet and battling the evil Lords of Greed. 

If you ever wished to see Elizabeth Warren make a run for the White House, nominate her for a position in the People's Cabinet. If you ever voted for Ralph Nader or Dennis Kucinich during their earlier presidential campaigns, consider nominating them for positions in the People's Cabinet. 

Another benefit: This team-approach will make it much easier for the Democratic campaign to fan out across the nation to win support. Instead of just the President and VP making campaign appearances, every member of the Peoples Cabinet could be on the road, helping to get out the vote. This could generate a growing tide of enthusiasm that could not only put a Democratic Socialist in the White House but could also flood the polls with enough new voters to regain control of the House and Senate. 

The Idea for a People's Cabinet Is Not New 

Back in 1992, the great Berkeley-born environmental leader David Brower (a former Sierra Club director who went on to found Friends of the Earth and Earth Island Institute), spelled out what he would do "if I were President for a week." His first act would be to gather a team of specialists to draft "national environmental restoration legislation." Brower's team would have included alternative energy guru Amory Lovins, World Resources Institute head Gus Speth, biologist Norman Meyers, economist Hazel Henderson (who famously called economics "a form of brain damage"), 1988 presidential candidate Jesse Jackson, and a slate of progressive politicians—including Barbara Boxer, Jerry Brown, and Jimmy Carter. 

The Idea for a People's Cabinet Is Gaining Traction 

"We don't want another Treasury Secretary who is beholden to Wall Street," insists Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.). (This has been an institutional problem: six of the last Treasury Secretaries had Wall Street connections.) 

"Personnel is policy," Warren observes and making good cabinet appointments is "one of the best ways a president can assure that big things—and the right things—get done." Warren believes that "anyone who wants to be president should appoint only people who have already demonstrated that they are independent, who have already demonstrated that they will hold giant banks accountable." 

Bernie Sanders has vowed that there will be no one from Goldman Sachs in his Administration. (Hillary Clinton, by contrast, has refused to reject the idea of another Wall Streeter as Treasury head in a Clinton administration.) 

The idea of a Peoples' Cabinet is starting to emerge from many quarters. 

On February 5 (in expectation of a Democratic election victory in November), Just Foreign Policy director Robert Naiman launched an online petition urging the nomination of Robert Reich as Treasury Secretary in Sanders' new cabinet. 

Recently, the Washington Post reported that a progressive coalition (consisting of Public Citizen, Revolving Door Project, Rootstrikers, Better Markets, and Americans for Financial Reform) is challenging all presidential candidates, Democrat and Republican, "to provide a short list of candidates for Cabinet posts and top government jobs involved in policing Wall Street." 

(You can sign the petition here.) 

Note: If elected, Sanders' cabinet appointees still would need the consent of Congress. This current gridlock on this Constitutional approval process might benefit if a rising tide of motivated voters were to sweep into the nation's voting booths and bring an end the GOP/Tea Party's current obstructionist lock on the House and Senate). 

What Might a 'Peoples' Cabinet' Look Like? 

The following list is only intended as a conversation starter. It clearly needs work. It needs more women and more candidates of color. (And, as a practical matter, anyone who receives a significant number of votes for a position on the Peoples' Cabinet would have to be willing to serve.) But the move for a Peoples' Cabinet needs to start somewhere. Let it begin here. 

Presidential Offices 

President: Bernie Sanders 

Vice-president: Elizabeth Warren 

Cabinet Offices 

Department of State: Daniel Ellsberg 

Department of the Treasury: Robert Reich 

Department of Defense: Gen. Wesley Clark. 

Department of Justice: Ramsey Clark 

Department of Interior: Winona LaDuke

Department of Agriculture: Jim Hightower 

Department of Commerce: Van Jones 

Department of Labor: Mary Beth Maxwell 

Department of Health and Human Services: Hillary Clinton 

Department of Housing and Urban Development: Jonathan Reckford 

Department of Transportation: Elon Musk 

Department of Energy: Amory Lovins 

Department of Education: Michael Moore 

Department of Veterans Affairs: Tammy Duckworth 

Department of Homeland Security: Edward Snowden 

Environmental Protection Agency: Bill McKibben 

Executive Offices 

Office of Management and Budget: Paul Krugman 

Small Business Administration: Ben "Ice Cream" Cohen and Jerry Greenfield 

Director of the FBI: Coleen Rowley 

Director of the CIA: Ray McGovern 

Bureau of Consumer Affairs: Ralph Nader 

UN Ambassador: Angelina Jolie 

This proposal will be forwarded to the both Sanders and Clinton campaigns. They will be encouraged to "pre-declare" their cabinet choices. 

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Create Your Own "People's Cabinet" 

Fill in your own list of Presidential Appointees below.  

Once you are done, you can email your list to Bernie Sanders and/or Hillary Clinton. 



Secretary of State: 

Department of State: 

Department of the Treasury: 

Department of Defense: 

Department of Justice: 

Department of Interior:

Department of Agriculture: 

Department of Commerce: 

Department of Labor: 

Department of Health and Human Services: 

Department of Housing and Urban Development: 

Department of Transportation: 

Department of Energy: 

Department of Education: 

Department of Veterans Affairs: 

Department of Homeland Security: 

Environmental Protection Agency: 

Campaign Addresses 

Bernie 2016, PO Box 905, Burlington, VT 05402. 

Hillary for America, PO Box 2001, New York, NY 10116-2001