15 JANUARY 1977, Page 6

The Coca-Cola cabinet

Nicholas von Hoffman

Washington George McGovern, an invisible man since Nixon crushed him in 1972, has emerged on the TV screens and called Carter's cabinet selections worthy of the exile of San Clemente. For the first time in years McGovern wasn't alone. The liberals in Mr Carter's party aren't happy, nor are people with imagination and no particular political affiliation.

All American cabinets seem to be composed of Coco-Cola executives and corporation lawyers, but this one is outstandingly not outstanding. For that reason establishmentarian publications are praising it for its 'balance,' its 'competence,' and its 'managerial abilities.' Special emphasis is being put on the thought that Management is this cabinet's strong suit, as we are led to believe that they will shortly do wonders of efficiency.

There is nothing in the record of those cabinet members who have held high government positions in the past to justify this optimism. Joe Califano, who will be Secretary of the enormous Department of Health, Education and Welfare, served under Robert McNamara in the Defence Department during a period of scandalously bad management, moving on to the White House where he is given credit—if there is any credit to be had—for the war on poverty, and a collection of Johnson era programmes by which billions of dollars were looted by social workers, and the lower forms of per diem compensated academic advisors, 'consultants,' and `soft wear' (meaning not lingerie, but invisible, verbal services) corporations.

Nixon's former Secretary of Defence James R. Schlesinger, returns to power as Carter's energy czar. His czarship's political philosophy is that Americans should freely sacrifice their freedom in a perpetual, disciplined, collective effort to exalt the state which will protect that freedom against the ever-receding day that it can be safely restored. As for Cyrus Vance, hours of study of Vance's long career of public service have failed to yield a single instance in which he ever egpressed his opinion or belief in anything. Unprincipled is too strong a word for him inasmuch as it suggests energy and a unique force of wickedness, but this pussy cat is non-principled.

The women's groups, while not ecstatic, are content to have two of their gender in the cabinet. Some of them are getting a little more sophisticated and now recognise that ovaries, no more than testicles, do not assure satisfactory performance in high office. Nevertheless, there aren't enough of the sophisticates to questioh the selection of Patricia Roberts Harris as the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development. Ms Harris is a tofer, as those in the equal employment opportunity business here say of someone who is both female and black— that is two for the price of one.

Aside from being a tofer, Ms Harris does bring other attributes to her position. She has absolutely no experience in housing, she is a former ambassador to a tiny European principality, a corporation lawyer and the recipient of thirty honorary degrees. Imagine, she has devoted one entire month of her life to hearing herself praised beyond reason or merit.

Of all the president-elect's choices only Andrew Young, the black Georgia Congressman who is going to be the American Ambassador to the UN, was associated with the winning side in the upheavals of the 'sixties. Young was a close collaborator of Dr Martin Luther King, and one much admired for a special steadfast goodness that never tired and never soured. The UN ambassadorship is of the cabinet but not of cabinet status in the eyes of most Americans so that Young's appointment hasn't helped shield the peanut from criticism of his appointment of former federal judge Griffin Bell as Attorney-General.

Bell, who is from Americus, Georgia, a town close to Carter's village of Plains, bills himself as a moderate, not only on racial questions but on all matters. Tepid, timid and conventional would probably be closer to the mark, Civil rights groups are attacking him for his unheroically proper record as a judge, but his lack of boldness on the bench is not nearly so deflating of larger hopes for the Carter administration as his membership of several social clubs which prohibit Negroes and Jews. Even with Negroes and Jews, an exclusive social club in Atlanta, Georgia would be a desperately parochial experience.

Bell and Bert Lance, Carter's director of the Office of Management and Budget who is also a member of the same lugubrious establishments, have chosen to live their idle hours among the dullest kinds of middling Anglo-Saxon millionaires and CocaCola bottlers. (Coke figures so strongly in the Carter administration because Atlanta is the yvorld headquarters of the delicious, too terribly American drink.) This isn't a case of class resentment against snobbery. Only those who have suffered a long luncheon at a provincial social club can appreciate this form of death before dying. No Working snob would join such a place, and the rest of us here, far from resenting the existence of such clubs, are grateful to them for keeping the membership bricked up inside so they can go about boring the public at large.

To Carter's credit his appointments show that he doesn't hold a person's mistakes against him. When you look over the background of all his people you see that one or the other of them was connected with every fiasco, mistake and disaster, commencing right after the Russians shot down the U-2, and there may even be someone who was involved in that we don't know about yet.

Neertheless, Republicans and others who espouse the idea that less government is, if not better government, at least cheaper government aren't elated either. Carter is the new kind of American conservative. He accepts the forms of government as they are now and places his trust in superior management. For him that begins with the reorganisation and consolidation of government bureaus into arrangements that don't look quite so silly in the organisational diagrams. He is not the first to see hope in that direction. After years of struggle his pre'decessors were able, for example, to get the public health service our of the TreasurY and into the Department of Health, Education and Welfare. This `reform' has resulted in no measurable savings or improvement in services. The government has literally hundreds of offices, agencies and commissions floating about like loose particles between the boxes in the organisational charts. It's a frightful clutter and an affront to all of us brought up to believe that the structures of public administration perfected under Louis XIV are as far as you can go in engineering an efficient and effective government. In fact, even with computers, that sort of centralisation can't work, or at least no one here knows how .to make it work. The country is too big, it has too many different occupations, enterprises and circumstances' The country yearns for decentralisation bul those who are expected to provide us wit,h the public administration skills to carry 11 out simply haven't applied themselves tell developing the needed forms of law an government organisation. Thus when Nixon made an aborted and poorly thought cu.` stab at decentralisation a few years ago n consisted of little more than changing 1.11,,e locus of decision-making without realisin' the character of the decisions must be changed as well. If such thoughts have lodged themselves in the cerebral cortex of our leader and maximum peanut, they are hidden. Musings on defence expenditures are public enough. They will be going up again, although, he tells us, at a slower rate than would be the case if he weren't such a splendid manager. As always happens when war appropriations rise, the press is full of interviews with generals and admirals explaining that the Russians have achieved parity or even superiority. No one explains why the Russians bother. Look at all they've got these past thirty years by being the underdogs. Maybe we-should let them get ahead -tld then perhaps America can gain friends, Influence and control over territory the way the Russians have. Being number one is fine for bluster, but obviously it doesn't pay off. And one closing note from the world of business. Wall Street is breathless at the thought of the impending battle between Baron Marcel L. Bich and his Bic pen company and the Gillette razor. Ever since King Gillette invented the safety razor seventy-five years ago, the Boston-based company has had it all to itself except in the 1960s when the hirsute hippies posed a distinct threat to profits. Now comes the Baron—who has already done well for himself here with his disposable pen and cigarette lighter—with a disposable razor blade. Millions of dollars and chins are at stake, not to mention American pride. It's bad enough listening to the news every morning on a Japanese radio but not, 1 hope, while we're taking our whiskers off with a French razor.