Monday, January 18, 2010
On taking the threat of catastrophe seriously
One of the respondents to my previous post points out, altogether accurately, that it has become customary for one member of the Cabinet to refrain from attending the State of the Union address so that there will be someone available to take over the reins of government should a catastrophe wipe out most of the highest level of the Executive Branch. He cites a very helpful Wikipedia entry on "designated survivors.) (This comment was provoked by the revelation that Robert Gates was in a secret location during President Obama's inauguration so that he could take over if Obama, Biden, Pelosi, and Robert Byrd were all killed, Clinton and Geithner being unavailable to serve because neither had ben confirmed, unlike Gates, a carryover from the Bush Administration.)
This is not about a serious threat of terrorism. The practice dates back to the Cold War, when an attack on Washington was a real possibility. However, it was continued after the fall of the Soviet Union though as a ceremonial function. Not just in the real Clinton White House, but also in the fictional TV White House:
"In the episode He Shall, from Time to Time..., Josh is instructed to "pick a guy" (referring to the designated survivor.) Ultimately, Secretary of Agriculture Roger Tribbey is chosen; the episode closing with the President briefing him on damage control, and leaving him in the Oval Office as he leaves for the Capitol to deliver the State of the Union Address." [Wikipedia]
Whatever the actual planning for continuity of government, this bit of dress up pretend is not a real part of it.
However, if we are serious about this sort of thing, the first step would be to allow Congress to vote through a secure electronic mechanism without coming to the floor. While this provides some protection against attack, it also avoids the spectacle of some Senator dragged into the Capitol on his hospital bed to cast an important vote on pending legislation.
"Might not most of us even prefer a (temporary) military takeover to a government headed by the Commerce Secretary"
Well the problem with that is that there is no guarantee that any military takeover would be temporary.
Needless to say, I have no disagreement with Howard Gilbert, to whom I am grateful for directing me to the Wikipedia site.
"Indeed, why shouldn't members of Congreess also simply watch the address on TV"
I think it's a combination of figuring that security is so good there's no real threat, and 435 people who all share the same personal motto: "Apres moi le deluge” Hey, if they're dead, why should they care what comes next? Hey, if they cared about posterity, they'd do a LOT of things differently.
I watch State of the Union TV productions amazed by the camera work and the pomp and circumstance. I wonder how many persons are involved in preparing for the various camera shots and who makes the decisions with respect to these shots. And while we're at it, there are many "guests" on the floor in addition to the 535 Congress members, such as Cabinet members and SCOTUS Justices. (Why do the Justices wear their robes in the House chambers?) It's like watching a major sporting event with such camera shots. I wonder if those in attendance are aware when they are included in a camera shot (so they don't nod off or do a pick). And of course there are the "standing Os" in addition to the applause. The alternative may be to watch "Spike."
The secretary of commerce is Gary Locke former governor of the state of Washington; his current department biography is there.
Tom Clancy answered this question:
Things would go on just as before.
An incompetent President would be
advised by his inner circle, or
bypassed entirely, as was done after
Woodrow Wilson had a stroke.
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