The following is a guest post by Joshua Spivak, a research fellow at the Hugh L. Carey Center for Government Reform at Wagner College and a lawyer. The opinions expressed are his own.
Trying to draw some direct implications between the country’s economic doldrums and the Obama administration, House Minority Leader John Boehner called for the firing of the administration’s economic team, including Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner.
Boehner may just be looking to score some easy political points, but he is following in a grand tradition. With nearly every electoral or polling downturn, a president is faced with calls to remove cabinet members and other senior advisors.
Fortunately for Geithner, and for the other cabinet members, Obama certainly knows firing members of his team most likely wont help his or his party’s cause. Cabinet members, who serve as the face for a host of political decisions, are lighting rods for attacks. By calling for their removal, political opponents are able to claim that the president is unable to properly choose or manage his subordinates, and is therefore not qualified for the job.
As past presidents have seen, there is little benefit to having the cabinet member removed. All this action does is open the President, and his party, to criticism for blatant political opportunism and disloyalty for not taking a needed action before an election.
Instead, presidents tend to wait until just after an election to remove Cabinet members. George W. Bush took such action with the canning of his first Secretary of Treasury Paul O’Neill in 2002, just after the midterm elections. Lyndon Johnson took a more indirect route to removing his embattled defense secretary. Johnson got Robert McNamara appointed head of the World Bank, an appointment the relieved McNamara found out about in the morning newspaper.