Environmental Protection Agency or Interior Department. Do not hire Robert Kennedy Jr. He's too partisan and kind of a nut when it comes to policy. Check out this dangerously alarmist 2005 Rolling Stone piece about the purported link between autism and childhood vaccines. (To learn why Kennedy's piece was alarmist, see "Sticking Up for Thimerosal" by Arthur Allen in Slate, August 2005.) Throw in Kennedy's 1983 heroin bust, and you've got yourself an unconfirmable nominee.
Defense Department. Do not reappoint Robert Gates. Joe Klein floated this idea in a June Time magazine column inspired by Doris Goodwin's Team of Rivals, which shows how Abraham Lincoln co-opted his political enemies by appointing them to his Cabinet. The trouble with Klein's thinking is that it's all about politics and only vaguely about Gates himself, who gets good press mainly because he had the fantastic luck to succeed a disastrously bad defense secretary, Donald Rumsfeld. Nancy Soderberg, a former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations under Clinton, and Brian Katulis of the Center for American Progress, a liberal nonprofit, made a more substantive case last month in the Washington Post, arguing for Gates because he's not an ideologue and because he favors shoring up failing states before they become havens for terrorists. But it still adds up to "he's not as bad as those other blowhard Bushies." I think that's setting the bar way too low. Plus, I was never really satisfied that Gates came clean about his role in the Iran-Contra scandal.
Attorney General. Do not appoint Jamie Gorelick. It pains me to write this partly because I know and like Gorelick and mostly because by all accounts she performed brilliantly as deputy attorney general in the Clinton administration. But her subsequent hiring as vice chair at Fannie Mae, despite her lack of any background in finance, and most especially the $26.4 million she received in total compensation over a period of six years disqualify her for public office. As Jack Shafer has noted in Slate, Fannie Mae was a bipartisan trough for the politically connected, but the patronage and executive pay were particularly lavish under James Johnson, a Democrat who ran Walter Mondale's 1984 presidential campaign. (See "A Medici With Your Money" by Matthew Cooper, February 1997.) Gorelick needs a few more years of good works (the 9/11 commission was a good start) to rehabilitate herself.
It goes without saying—but I'll say it anyway—that Obama should avoid hiring Johnson for any position. Obama probably learned that lesson during the campaign when he made the mistake of briefly putting Johnson in charge of his vice-presidential search. He should avoid Franklin Raines, Johnson's successor, for the same reason.
Vice President. Not Joe Biden.
Then just make sure he keeps a low profile.