It’s now official.
The Secretary of Homeland Security stands 18th in the line of 18 would-be presidential successors. As the last position added to the Cabinet, SHS queues up behind everybody else. Specifically, right behind Jim Nicholson (at #17) the Secretary of Veterans’ Affairs.
Perhaps, however, this wasn’t the time for seniority to have been determinative, unless, of course, the case can be made that the person responsible for homeland security is decidedly less important than, say, the President Pro Tempore of the Senate (Alaska’s Ted Stevens at #3). That the Secretary of Labor (Elaine Chao at #11), for example, is ahead of the Secretary of Health and Human Services (Michael Leavitt at #12) isn’t significant. But the nation’s top domestic security official – in an era when national security will be at the forefront of the war on terrorism for the foreseeable future – is arguably much more than last hired. The SHS is the point person in the defense of the homeland – not a high-level functionary. An ill-fated hire at, say, Interior (Gale Ann Norton at #8) is correctible. The wrong person at Homeland Security could be catastrophic.
As it’s turning out, maybe Michael Chertoff deserves to be behind, say, Mike Johanns (at #9), the Secretary of Agriculture or Margaret Spellings (at #16), the Secretary of Education. But that would be a function of imprudent Administration hiring – not an appropriate symbol – and valuation — of a national priority that pragmatically equates to survival of the country as we know it.