PRESIDENTIAL Cabinetmaking, an American ritual, has become a public test of judgment for new White House residents. Appointments are studied like tea leaves for portents of things to come and are considered tests of the new chief executive's ability to measure character and intellect and stand up to the heat in Washington.
President-elect Clinton is about halfway through the list of 15 Cabinet-level appointments and four others of "Cabinet rank," plus many lower-level staffers. His sagacity already is being measured on the basis of the early selections.
Mr. Clinton's two-day "economic summit" absorbed the public's attention earlier this week. It turned out to be a useful seminar on the country's needs and likely future policies. With that behind them, the pundits now can return to speculation on coming appointments.
It is clear that Clinton is not a man to be rushed. That's good; the former governor is a newcomer to national office and the Washington milieu. When one is contemplating the appointment of someone to a sensitive national post, it's best not to rush.
On the basis of his appointments so far, Clinton has touched a lot of political and professional bases. Among his choices: old school chum Thomas McLarty as White House chief of staff, Sen. Lloyd Bentsen as treasury secretary, Rep. Leon Panetta as director of the Office of Management and Budget, Donna Shalala, chancellor of the University of Wisconsin, as secretary of health and human services, and Democratic National Chairman Ron Brown as secretary of commerce.
It appears Clinton will have a record number of women and members of racial and ethnic minority groups in Cabinet or sub-Cabinet positions.
Indications are he will also name former South Carolina Gov. Richard Riley as education secretary and former San Antonio Mayor Henry Cisneros as secretary of housing and urban development. Two other appointments appeared assured: retiring US Sen. Timothy Wirth of Colorado as energy secretary and either former Arizona Gov. Bruce Babbitt or US Rep. Bill Richardson of New Mexico for Interior.
Already, some appointees' lack of Washington experience - especially Mr. McLarty's - is being noted. But Clinton clearly values McLarty's loyalty, business ability, and discretion.
Clinton does not bring to the presidency as much Washington know-how or know-who as some of his predecessors. This results in a more deliberate selection process, but, so far, his approach and his choices seem to bode well for the new administration and the nation it will serve.