Following the September 11 attacks, a position was created in the cabinet for a person to take over parts of the national agenda transferred some powers from other cabinet departments because of their role in homeland security, such as the Coast Guard, Border Patrol, Transportation Security Administration (TSA), and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). It did not include oversight of the FBI or the CIA (strange, in my opinion – more power politics). This position was the secretary of homeland security. There’s been 3 under President Bush, and evidenced (I guess) by the lack of terrorist attacks since September 11 on US soil, they have all been successful.
Barack Obama needed to think long and hard about this position. It’s important, but not ‘big 3’ important. It’s got a place, but it’s a scratched-together, bits-and-pieces post. Don’t get me wrong – the post is crucial to helping keep the US safe. But it also is a position that has a lot more hype about it than power. If it had more power (say oversight of the FBI and the CIA) then it would be extremely important. But it doesn’t, and even those agencies it oversees have a degree of independence anyway.
Obama needed to think long and hard on it because now is a chance to actually make something of the post. It’s his chance to actually mould it into something that gets results, perhaps in areas the position has neglected in the past. Obama is seeking to confirm Arizona governor Janet Napolitano. That’s a very recent rumour, and one that’s supposed to be under wraps, in a bunker, with a secret code attached. How it got leaked is unknown except to the original reporter. Either way, it’s getting out there now.
I want to take a different aproach to this appointment than what I did with attorney general. I want to look at what Napolitano would mean in shaping the office in a new direction. So let’s start with where she’s from: the south-west. She’s from a border state that touches Mexico. And, sterotypically, there is immigration issues on the Mexican border. It’s a hot topic for any southern state or citizen, and even an issue for wider America. Instantly I see one way this post in the cabinet might change: border control. Whereas you couldn’t name the position in charge of immigration and border control in the Bush administration, here we will likely have a post that directly engages with border issues and immigration.
It’s also a step in undoing all the punishing immigration laws that the Bush team, and wider Republicans, have pushed around. Illegal immigrants have been targeted and punished regularly, and even regular civilians have been been attacked. It impacts on American commerce as well, but that’s never been spoken about by Republicans.
It’s a good bipartisan move as well. Arizona is a Republican-friendly state. Appointing the Democratic governor says a few things – Obama wants southerners in his cabinet, he wants politicians who deal with ‘the issues’ in ‘the same posts’, and he wants centre-fractionally right Democrats to have a voice. All good, bipartisan moves. It’s not the same as appointing a full-fledged Republican, but that was never going to happen with a high profile cabinet post. This might be as close as you get though.
I think there’s a message in appointing a woman to a post that has the word ‘security’ in it. It’s one thing to have a female politician in ‘health’ and ‘human services’, but I think we get a bit of a difference (much like we got with Condoleezza Rice as secretary of state) with this appointment. Political movings for 2012 of course.
With the first Democrat to step into the position, she will have a big job ahead of her. I think she will manage it, and I hope she does. If someone could figure out the immigration issue in the US, they would go down in record books. It starts with fixing the borders – however they plan to do it. That’s where this post comes in. And at the same time, ensuring no ‘undesirables’ (whoever they are now that the US has a fair-minded and serious president … in a few months) get in, keeping the US safe as a whole, and managing portions of various agencies. It’s a big job. I hope, and think, Napolitano is up to it.