The Best People

By Jim Catano

By creating a team of allies upfront, a presidential candidate can deliver substantive change, even before the election

Javier Zarracina/, Getty Images, Creative Commons

We all remember the boast: “I’ve got the best people,” intoned candidate Trump. His appointees, however, have been a less-than-stellar string of unqualified Fox News talking heads, ideologues, sycophants, nepotistic brats, and spoils system tycoons some intent on destroying the very agencies they head.

Fortunately, many have vacated their positions, toppled by their own ineptitude or corruption. Unfortunately, the few principled ones have quit or been driven out, and Trump’s fanatical base seems as unfazed by such failures as they are by their leader’s many indiscretions.

As in most recent elections, the 2020 outcome will hinge on swing voters, many of whom desire substantive, fundamental change. Donald Trump offered an illusion of that but has only come through for the very rich. A progressive Democrat could do well by not only promising real change but by delivering it right during the campaign. Here’s how:

One presidential hopeful, Congressman Eric Swalwell, intends to staff his cabinet with some Republicans which seems to echo what Abraham Lincoln did when he formed “a team of rivals.” But the situation then was quite different from today. Lincoln’s Republican Party was new and the rivals he chose had formerly been Democrats or Whigs who came together to form a new political entity. Although it had its challenges, his was the right call for a time when wide-based support was needed to hold the Union together during the nation’s greatest crisis, the Civil War.

Recent attempts to include members of the opposing party in presidential cabinets have not gone as well and neither has the tactic of inviting someone on the opposite end of one’s own party’s spectrum to be a running mate. John McCain and Sarah Palin are classic examples. Most candidates today don’t even announce their VP choice until after their nomination is secure.

So why not try the polar opposite?

As of this writing, 20 prominent Democrats have announced a presidential run of a total of 229 Dems who have filed according to Ballotpedia, with many coming from the “progressive” or more liberal wing of the party. But what if a frontrunner were to announce her or his intention to invite others who share a similar political philosophy to join a future cabinet or become a running mate?

I’m not talking about doing that later in the race after the primary/caucus/convention process or even after the election. I’m suggesting doing it now.

For example, my personal favorite candidate is Senator Elizabeth Warren. How brilliant it would be for her to say now that for key positions in her administration she’ll invite someone like a current opponent, pro-environmental Governor Jay Inslee, to head the Department of the Interior or the EPA to launch a serious battle against climate change.

Bernie Sanders might lead Health and Human Services to better implement the Affordable Care Act and work towards Medicare for All.

Tulsi Gabbard could head up Veteran’s Affairs. Kamala Harris would be a fine Attorney General, and Eric Swalwell or Pete Buttigieg might run Defense or State. The two Johns…Delaney and Hickenlooper might be tapped for the “money” cabinet positions.

These and others could be a VP choice, and almost all of the current Democratic presidential hopefuls could have a spot in her administration.

Of course, such a strategy might work for any candidate. Not only does it avoid the “circular firing squad” about which Barack Obama recently quipped, but those who realize now that the odds are too long for them to make it to the top of the pile could drop their individual bids and become part of a powerful campaign team. Such a squad would be a high-relief contrast to a Trump administration that’s been riddled with incompetence, strife and controversy.

I thought I’d try out this idea on a presidential candidate and got that chance on April 17 when I volunteered for the Elizabeth Warren rally in Salt Lake City. We volunteers met her afterward, and I briefly shared this concept. She responded, “What a great idea!” which I hope was more than just a throw-away line in a press-the-flesh moment.

The Democrats need bold ideas, and running as a “Team of Allies” might help one of them…all of them, really…displace our national embarrassment and hit the ground running with a crew that’s ready to resurrect the best policies discarded in recent years and implement new ones to save our country from the fate of other world powers throughout history that have endured roughly 250 years before collapse. If past is prologue, our time is about up unless we reinvent ourselves.

An audacious presidential campaign and administration would also help the U.S. claim leadership in the world critical for addressing overarching global problems such as preserving a planetary environment that supports human life. A team of only the best people will be required to pull that off. I hope someone has the vision to get one rolling.


Jim Catano is a retired sales and marketing executive who’s writing a screenplay on what it will take for his grandkids to inherit a livable world.

This article was originally published on April 29, 2019.