Vilsack confirmation hearing linkfest

Former Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack appears to be on track for unanimous confirmation by the Senate as Secretary of Agriculture in Barack Obama's cabinet. At his confirmation hearing yesterday, Republicans didn't ask hostile questions, and Vilsack didn't have to explain away any embarrassing behavior like Treasury Secretary-nominee Timothy Geithner's failure to fully meet his tax obligations over a period of years.

Despite the lack of drama, Vilsack made a number of noteworthy comments during the hearing. Join me after the jump for some highlights and analysis.

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Is the Obama Cabinet too Conservative?

Chris Bowers runs the numbers and determines that the Obama cabinet is too conservative, or at the least two heavily skewed towards the centrist Democratic Leadership Council. Matthew Yglesias passes another way of looking at the numbers from within the Obama cabinet that offers a different perspective based on voting in Congress rather than caucus affiliation.

The evidence is pretty strong that the administration lies considerably to the right of the Democrats in the House, but is reasonably representative of Senate Democrats. But only Solis comes from the most liberal wing of the party. The center of the party is well represented in powerful positions by the president, vice-president, secretary of state, and WH chief of staff while the lower cabinet is filled with more moderate Democrats and a Republican.

I don't think there is an argument to be made that this is the most liberal cabinet, or at least the most liberal cabinet that Barack Obama could have selected. That said, it is a cabinet dedicated to getting things done, and as I have written before, President-elect Obama appears to be one who puts policy over process. So, to take one example, while Tom Daschle didn't have the most progressive voting record in the Senate -- his lifetime score, according to the metric cited by Yglesias, is slightly to the right of the Senate Democratic median (though that number is skewed given Daschle's need to shift to the right ahead of reelection bids in South Dakota, as well as some of the procedural votes he took as Majority Leader that appeared to have him voting the conservative position but in reality had him employing a tactic that would enable him to bring up subsequent votes on bills initially lacking sufficient support to move forward) -- he could be the strongest shepherd of universal healthcare legislation, a clearly progressive end. So by and large I am more or less content with the current make up of the Obama cabinet.

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Open thread with optional homework assignment

As Barack Obama assembles his cabinet and key White House advisers, he's choosing a lot more people from the "centrist" or corporate-friendly wing of the Democratic Party than movement progressives. He is leaving George Bush's Defense Secretary, Robert Gates, in place. He has also made some symbolic moves that angered a lot of progressives, in particular selecting Rick Warren to give the invocation at his inauguration.

I understand the political arguments in favor of Obama's strategy, and opinion polls support some of them. When asked whether they approve of Obama or how he is handling the transition (different pollsters ask the question differently), anywhere from 65 percent to 75 percent of Americans are saying they approve.

I've been wondering how much Obama's conciliatory gestures have been helping him with Republicans and conservatives of the wingnut variety. I'm not talking about Jim Leach Republicans, I'm talking about the kind of person who really believed Obama was a "socialist."

For example, one of my friends told me last month that her mother's best friend believes changing the American flag will be "the first order of business" when Obama takes office. I am not kidding.

In the next ten days, many of us will attend holiday parties and family reunions. I don't recommend that you bring up politics at these events if that would make people uncomfortable. However, if you come from a family where politics are often discussed when folks get together, I would like to hear from you.

Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to find out whether your conservative friends and relatives have abandoned some of their more paranoid beliefs about Obama since he was elected. In other words, how well have Obama's conciliatory gestures allayed conservative fears about his intentions? Is he likely to get more of a honeymoon than Bill Clinton did in 1993?

After the holidays, report back in an open thread or with your own diary.

If you are driving to another city for the holidays, read this piece on safe driving tips by The Baculum King, based on his experience as a truck driver and one particularly horrifying accident he witnessed.

Daily Kos user Translator followed up with this diary containing more advice about driving safely in cold weather.

Remember, "research has found driving while talking on a cellphone to be as dangerous as driving drunk."

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More reaction to Vilsack's nomination and good ideas on food policy

I don't recall nearly as intense a reaction to Bill Clinton's or George Bush's nominees for secretary of agriculture. Either food and farm issues are more salient now than they used to be, or I am noticing it more because Barack Obama is tapping an Iowan to head the USDA.

A few days ago I posted a Vilsack reaction linkfest at the Iowa progressive community blog Bleeding Heartland, but the hits just keep on coming.

Follow me after the jump if you care to read more.

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Department of Interior - Cabinetwatch

Salazar has a record of opposition to some of the marquee environmental issues. A supporter of Joe Lieberman , he opposed protections that limit offshore drilling near Florida's gulf coast.  He is on record as voting against requiring American auto manufacturers to comply with clean air standards.

And now he's Department of the Interior top man. Questions? Comments? Rude Remarks?

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