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Withdrawn High-Level Nominees:

The latest withdrawal of a pretty high-level nominee (this time, Chas Freeman) made me wonder why there seem to be many more such in the early phase of this Administration than in past Administrations. Some possible explanations:

  1. I'm misremembering, and there were roughly as many in past Administrations.

  2. This Administration is unusually poor at vetting people. (If so, why?)

  3. This Administration's adversaries are unusually good at torpedoing people. (Doesn't seem quite right, especially given how badly the Republicans were beaten in the election.)

  4. This Administration is unusually willing to cut nominees loose. (If so, why?)

  5. The threshold for disqualifying a nominee has fallen in the last few decades. (If so, why?)

  6. This Administration is unusually willing to propose controversial nominees. (But many of the nominees have not been defeated because their policies or personalities were controversial.

I'm sure there must be others. What are your thoughts on this?

einhverfr (mail) (www):
Personally I see Obama struggling over his own idealism. He wants to do things differently and articulates a standard only to realize it wasn't part of his vetting process later that day.

So I would think that one of the elements is being willing to a) make controversy over nominees and b) being willing to cut them loose.
3.10.2009 11:48pm
PersonFromPorlock:
The blogosphere has come into being since the last change of administration and has kept various nominees' flaws from being glossed over by the Establishment media. This happened with Harriet Miers, too, so it's not completely new.
3.10.2009 11:54pm
SP:
And Miers wasn't a good nominee, either, though you can hardly say she wasn't vetted. The stuff going on with Obama's nominees has been funny - and to think, McCain was hammered over some relatively minor stuff with regards to Palin (what ever did come of that firing the wife beating state trooper???)
3.11.2009 12:00am
OrinKerr:
One theory: The Internet has made so much more information about people widely available in an instant that there is now much more basis for individuals to object to individuals who have said or done something controversial. All the dirty laundry is out there. My guess, anyway.
3.11.2009 12:04am
Jim Hu:
My theory: The increased scrutiny also causes more good people to recuse themselves from even being considered.
3.11.2009 12:07am
Constantin:
Internet. I'm pretty sure Freeman was sent away prior to a single story having been run on his controversy in the NY Times or the Washington Post.
3.11.2009 12:08am
EricPWJohnson (mail):
One of the reasons I think is the passing of the Oxley-Sarbonnes act. I thought there were some clauses of increased disclosure of financial liabilities for officers and political appointees.

I cannot remember exactly where and in what context but I thought after Enron the rules for disclosure were tightened hence why everyone is getting nailed on the taxes.
3.11.2009 12:08am
dr:
I think it's a combination of 1 and 5, and what Orin said. I seem to remember Clinton having a mess of similar problems in '93.

(Yes, I realize my theory is self-contradictory. I stand by it!)
3.11.2009 12:08am
George Weiss (mail) (www):
maybe people are just more corrupt than they used to be? after all none of these tax scandals were discovered through the internet really-they were spread that way sure-but the discovery was probably word of mouth or something
3.11.2009 12:10am
Anon21:
I would guess the correct answer is closest to 4. As for the reason, I simply think the Administration has so much on its plate already that they are simply unable and unwilling to deal with sideshows. If a controversy erupts, and obtaining a favorable resolution is not critical to administration priorities, they will capitulate or seek a compromise on almost any terms. The flip side, where nominees are concerned, is that if a nominee who the Administration perceives to be critical to the success of its agenda is imperiled, they will make the effort (quite likely behind the scenes, applying pressure on key Senators) to get their man or woman in in a timely fashion. I think this tendency was on display in the Geithner affair, although one might plausibly counter that he made it through because he was the first nominee to show serious problems, and that others are now being cut loose because the Administration doesn't want to repeat whatever effort it took to get Geithner through the Senate in a timely fashion.
3.11.2009 12:10am
EricPWJohnson (mail):
And in the vetting process - its almost impossible for administrations to look too deep into peoples income and tax structures due to privacy restrictions

In the Clinton administration and in the 1st Bush Term most people were nailed on the I-9 issue.

Now its switched to taxation and to a certain extent lobbying which is another financial disclosure that was tightened after Enron and other noteable incidents.
3.11.2009 12:11am
Dave D. (mail):
...I think it's a combination of no executive experience on the part of Obama, and what experience he has is Chicago experience, where aberrant behaviour is not disqualifying. There are plenty of young, computer savvy conservatives who enjoy digging dirt on Liberals. Barry ought to hire a few and turn 'em loose on his prospectives. He's never going to get that level of critical scrutiny from folks who think like he does about the prospectives.
3.11.2009 12:16am
OSU2L (mail):
"And in the vetting process - its almost impossible for administrations to look too deep into peoples income and tax structures due to privacy restrictions"

Perhaps, but I find it hard to believe that an Administration will nominate someone without that person waiving voluntarily disclosing all of that information.
3.11.2009 12:21am
Simon P:
I'd combine a few of the factors.

First, take the information revolution. "Scandalous" details on nominees move more quickly than ever, and they move into a 24/7, always-on mediasphere that's desperate for content. So every little thing gets amplified; the administration is dealing with a higher political cost with these less-than-sparkling nominees.

Add to this an ambitious opening gambit and a Republican minority desperate for a coherent narrative to lead into the mid-term elections. It began at least as far back as ACORN -- as Republicans began to realize they were going to lose, they started to pump up this notion that ACORN was corrupting the legitimacy of the election, that Obama was getting in on dirty tricks. Then came the Blago scandal, that fed into that. These less-than-perfect nominees could play into that (you can see one of the commenters pick up on it), if the Republicans start to think that they want to play a Democratic-corruption gambit against Obama's hope-and-magical-money plan. Obama may not want his nominees to give Republicans that kind of opening, so he may be unusually willing to let them go, rather than fight for the one he wants.

Take the Daschle-to-Sebelius move. Daschle was probably the better choice, but he was a lightning rod for Republican organizing not that long ago. His record had to be impeccable for the nomination to work. When it proved not to be, Obama goes for an appealing moderate, who'd previously gotten a bit of VP buzz. Sure, she's vulnerable on abortion, but that cuts against the corruption narrative. Take also the Richardson-Gregg-Locke move. Richardson's out because of a pending corruption investigation; Gregg pulls a bait-and-switch, setting up his own narrative (centrist Republicans disenchanted with Obama's aggressive socialist push?); then we have Locke. I guess Locke's got his lobbyist connections, but we'll see how it plays now that the Republicans have chosen the Obama-as-Socialist line. (He is still the nominee, isn't he?)

So—I think the story here is really about the Republicans. Once they fix on a story, and for now it seems that it's going to be the Socialist one, he'll try to nominate people who cut against it, for minimal political resistance.
3.11.2009 12:23am
Bama 1L:
Maybe the nominees are unmotivated.
3.11.2009 12:25am
Tony Tutins (mail):
It's no. 4. I think the obamanauts are in thrall to the atl/autoadmit meme: Guys in my high school used to neglect to pay their FICA/Medicare tax all the time. It was no big deal.

But then if Obama's critics/opponents try to make a big deal out of their nominees' foibles, the Obama team cuts the nominees loose (or invites them to inspect a bus chassis from below, as the phrase has it).

I do not understand the Chas. Freeman deal, however: Saudi is out friend (without the oil they sell to us, how would we operate our SUVs?) and China is our friend (without the dollars they lend back to us, how would we finance our federal government?) So the Obamanauts could well feel blindsided here.
3.11.2009 12:39am
Grover (mail):
Orin is absolutely correct. And as today's teenagers become tomorrow's legislators, look for the first nominee to be rejected based on what Facebook group they decided to join, or pictures they posted on their MySpace.
3.11.2009 12:43am
John Moore (www):
Because the Obama team knows it is going to do THE RIGHT THING FOR THE COUNTRY, so little stuff like tax issues are irrelevant.
3.11.2009 12:43am
Second Amendment Sister (mail):
In addition to the above, I think it's a function of the times we're going through, which would fall into #5. People are losing their jobs and their homes, mortgage companies and landlords won't negotiate or bend unless their arms are twisted, the average Joe feels like they are being held to a high (and unfair) standard in their financial affairs.

Enter a nominee who doesn't have to play by the rules... why? Because it's politics? That's not going to cut it in this atmosphere. A politician doesn't take care of their basic finances; well, are they losing their house? I believe the public vernacular would be a form of "Screw that."
3.11.2009 12:58am
Desiderius:
"play by the rules"

Too many rules.
3.11.2009 1:11am
Cardozo'd (www):
it's simple...there's nobody with the experience desired with the lack of taint desired.
3.11.2009 1:24am
Anon Y. Mous:
I'd say #2. This administration is just flat-out incompetent. Obama's inexperience is all too apparent, and he doesn't even have the good sense to hire others who know what they are doing.
3.11.2009 1:28am
Splunge:
I'm going to suggest you add another possibility:

(7) Like the stock market, people are reluctant to invest their capital (in this case their time and precious high-level reputations) in what may turn out to be a total train wreck.

The stakes for Team Obama are sky-high here. He can't merely caretake. If he isn't seen as solving some serious problems, he is going to be in serious trouble, and, of course, one of the best ways for the Top Guy to avoid taking personal heat is to shove subordinates over the transom.

Nobody wants to be Obama's "Brownie," called to testify before Congress about his failure to have his crystal ball in good working order. Good people have to balance the chance for high office, high visibility, and a stake in any success against the chance of being part of a high-visibility king-sized screwup.

Unfortunately, the nature of current affairs is such that realistically the best you could probably hope for is to bring things gradually back to an even keel, fending off the worst Pelosi pork-encrusted backscratching madness. That won't get you much applause, honestly. It's what people expect. And the worst you could fear...well, that's pretty bad.

It might be different if the economy was booming along, and you could be part of the new wonderful Free Lunch...er, I mean Health Care For Everybody initiative, Great Society Take 2, et cetera. That at least has the sunny hallmarks of vision, ambition, daring, instead of the dank cheerless odor of just cleaning up a hell of a lot of dirty dishes.
3.11.2009 1:32am
Vermando (mail) (www):
In terms of the information available, remember that Justice O'Connor claimed never to have cast a vote on abortion and yet had done so in a vommittee while in the Arizona legislature - she had only never cast one in the full legislature. Hard to imagine something like that being missed today, so I'd give that theory some credence.

We're also more sensitive today than we used to be. I'm not sure if that's a good thing or a bad thing.

As long as the posters above are casting aspersions, I'll say that President Obama is being held to a higher standard than previous administrations. Hell, John Bolton was a swinger and we heard almost nothing about that - hard to imagine one of President Obama's nominees having done something like that, and if so, it not being beaten to death in various media outlets.
3.11.2009 1:57am
Vern Cassin (mail):
Don't forget option 6: Random clustering. It may not mean anything at all.

In the last week, I've heard three people mention the word synecdoche--in completely different contexts. Because that is such an unusual experience, it's tempting to look for a root cause. But there doesn't have to be one.

It's possible that the conditions related to appointments are roughly the same as in previous administrations--but that Obama is just unlucky.
3.11.2009 1:58am
AlanDownunder (mail):
None of the above. The Freeman case is sui juris. Obama can't have realised that the US media and polity are less tolerant of criticism of Israel's foreign policy than are the Israeli media and polity. For Obama, one less Freeman is simply one less hornets' nest.

To anyone, Jew or non-Jew, who is not of a certain extra-planetary US-Israeli persuasion, Freeman's "offences" appear utterly inoffensive. Obama can be forgiven for thinking that such a reasonable nominee couldn't possibly be too hot to handle.

Unfortunately, Arabs are drawing the obvious conclusion - one that will do US or Israeli diplomacy no favours.
3.11.2009 2:58am
Casper the Friendly Guest (mail):
Vern:

In the last week, I've heard three people mention the word synecdoche--in completely different contexts. Because that is such an unusual experience, it's tempting to look for a root cause. But there doesn't have to be one.

Well, in your case, it is probably the release of the movie Synecdoche, New York on DVD.

On the broader point, I agree with Orin that the internet is a big factor. It is easier both to access the negative information in the first place, and then to make hay of it.
3.11.2009 3:22am
wooga:

To anyone, Jew or non-Jew, who is not of a certain extra-planetary US-Israeli persuasion, Freeman's "offences" appear utterly inoffensive. Obama can be forgiven for thinking that such a reasonable nominee couldn't possibly be too hot to handle.

It's not all about the juice, but also that little thing about cheerleading the Tiananmen Square Massacre.

But on the jewish issue, the guy did have a certain, how do you say, obsession with jewish conspiracy theories. Anybody who seriously thinks -- and repeatedly expresses the notion -- that the US is beholden to a secret jewish cabal... should not oversee anything involving analysis of middle east intelligence, let alone chair the NIC. It's like appointing someone who thinks the moon landing was fake to head NASA.

Combined with the fact that the guy was essentially on the Saudi dole on the 'millions of dollars' level yet REFUSED to submit the standard financial disclosures to clear up any conflict of interest questions.... and I don't see how anyone could possibly think this guy was a legitimate choice.

And no, I'm not an Israeli, jewish, or a neocon. I just happen to side with the team that doesn't celebrate the deliberate targeting of schoolchildren.
3.11.2009 4:09am
Splunge:
On the role of the Internet, I note with approval that Professor Volt himself apparently recognized the conceit inherent in Internet addicts attributing J. Random Paradigm Shift to the Internet -- geez, might as well poll retired UN Secretaries General on what kept the Cold War from hotting up, or New York Times reporters on who's best defended civil liberties over the years -- and had the grace to decline to list trenchant commentary on law blogs as one of the candidate reasons.

What keeps him humble even 'midst the heady fumes of bloggo-egoism, we wonder? Critical teen children? Plenty of fiber? The occasional excess of single-malt, leading to remembrance of screw-ups past? Trenchant commentary on his blog? Er...oops...wait a minute...
3.11.2009 4:47am
Mike S.:
Failing to pay tens of thousands of dollars to over a hundred thousand.in taxes is not a minor peccadillo that would have been overlooked years ago (the couple hundred from the "performance officer" might have been.) The income Daschle failed to report was larger than the salary he got as Senate Majority leader for goodness sake.

You left out another possibility: that the governing elite from whom nominees are drawn has ceased to believe that they have to play by the same rules as the rest of us.
3.11.2009 7:08am
Brett Bellmore:
2/6

He's a Chicago machine politician, used to associating with the likes of Reverend Wright and Bill Ayers, and nobody complaining about it. And he got catapulted into the highest office of the land in an unnaturally short time, with a media so in the tank that he wasn't vetted himself.

Give the guy a break, he's suffering from the "ethics bends", all that corruption is coming out in great painful bubbles, instead of gradually seeping out over the course of a long political career.

Seriously, had he reached the White House after a normal political trajectory, as the capstone of a long, long career, he'd have had time to adjust himself to the differing expectations at the federal level, and to shed a lot of baggage. He must be very disoriented right now.
3.11.2009 7:32am
MarkJ (mail):
Question: What are the five most terrifying words you'll ever hear from Obama's lips?

Answer: "Will you work for me?"

**************

Question: How do you know you're in really deep s***?

Answer: If Obama uses your name and "my nominee" in the same sentence.
3.11.2009 8:17am
Snaphappy:
I agree with einhverfr and #4, with a little bit of Orin's theory thrown in.

On the one hand, Obama wants everyone to be squeaky clean, no lobbying ties, etc. On the other hand, a lot of talented people have done some lobbying here and there. Who knew that it would wind up being the mark of Cain?

Second, a couple of big tax problems (Geithner, Daschle) made "tax problems," regardless of size, a disqualifier. And apparently many people have a minor tax problem lurking here or there. Those may well have been explicable, but Obama didn't want to have the fight, hence #4. Note that those are not the kind of problems that are discovered because of the internet.

Third, some information is easier to find now, but more importantly, information churns at a dizzying pace on the internet. In the past, the limited sources of news acted as a filter that meant only the larger problems made it into the public's consciousness. Now, information finds its audience more quickly, and the audience expresses its opinion on blogs, in comments to news stories, and otherwise on the internet. A story that would have died quickly has a much better opportunity to gain legs on the internet. An example of this last phenomenon is the Obama birth certificate "issue." 15 years ago, most people wouldn't have even heard about the issue because journalists would have rightly concluded early on that it was bunk.
3.11.2009 8:45am
Moonage Webdream (mail) (www):
I think a big part of the issue right now ( and in the past as well ), is vetting is left to staff members whose job is at the pleasure of the president. At first I'm sure there was a reticence from those staff members to displease their boss. However, with the advent of the internet, their job was being fact-checked by a million people. After getting burned a couple times, I'm sure they were a lot more thorough in vetting the nominee ( reading the internet ), and much moreso in communicating issues about the nominee. Obama's problem has not been so much in finding a decent nominee for a position as it has been in a seeming rush to announce that person as a nominee before I would imagine adequate time was given to vet that person. I think Obama would be better served to keep his names closer to his vest until that person passes the vetting and then announce them. I also think with Obama ( and to varying degrees other presidents ), there's a certain arrogance in that since they wanted this person, everyone will just do as they are told. I think right now Obama is learning a quick lesson in politics that a more experienced politician would already know.
3.11.2009 8:48am
JohnMc (mail) (www):
Moonage,

I hate to say it but your internet perspective is flawed. Keep in mind that during the runup the Obama campaign made big hay that McCain did not even use email yet Obama had a blackberry. ie, Obama is CONNECTED and ONE with the internet. So the lack of vetting through that source can't be the excuse.
3.11.2009 9:03am
BT:
Just for grins, here is a story that ran on the ABC News web site right after the election by Jake Tapper. (There is a link to the original document in the story. I wasn't able to reproduce it).


Could You Fill Out This Job Application?
November 13, 2008 9:07 AM

"If you have ever sent an electronic communication, including but not limited to an e-mail, text message or instant message, that could suggest a conflict of interest or be a possible source of embarrassment to you, your family, or the President-elect if it were made public, please describe."

So asks question 13 of the questionnaire for potential top-ranking Obama administration officials.

The mind reels.

The seven-page, 63-question intrusive and extensive list of queries, first obtained by the New York Times and confirmed as legitimate by the Obama Transition Team, offers a revealing glimpse into both the Obama team's determination not to repeat the mistakes of its predecessors (Any nanny issues? Any discriminatory club memberships?) as well as the new era on which Obama will lead ("Please provide the URL address of any Web sites that feature you in either a personal or professional capacity, e.g. Facebook, My Space, etc.").

Applicants are asked if they or any immediate family members own a gun, if they have ever been charged with sexual harassment or malpractice, if they have ever had any alimony or child support issues, "any writs of garnishment," or any bankruptcy problems.

Ever been investigated, arrested for, charged with, convicted of violating any law, regulation or ordinance? How about your spouse? Your child? ("You may exclude traffic offenses for which the fine was less than $50.")

Have you, your spouse, or any member of your immediate family ever worked with a financial, banking, insurance or mortgage institution currently the subject of federal government intervention as part of the financial meltdown? "This question includes but is not limited to, the following: Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, AIG, and Washington Mutual."

What about gifts? "Other than from relatives, or from close and longstanding personal friends on occasions such as birthdays or seasonal holidays, have you or your spouse ever received a gift exceeding $50.00 in value? Please identify the donor, the value of the gift, the date received and the circumstances in which the gift was received."

Net worth, tax returns, loans, trusts, real estate. The questionnaire attempts to leave no stone unturned.

Provide a copy of every book, article, column or publication you have authored, any speeches you have given, any testimony delivered, any resume you've issued.

"Please list all aliases or 'handles' you have used to communicate on the Internet."

"If you keep or have ever kept a diary that contains anything that could suggest a conflict of interest or be a possible source of embarrassment to you, your family, or the President-Elect if it were made public, please describe."
3.11.2009 9:08am
AntonK (mail):
Exaclty, JohnMC. The fact is (the ugly fact for Angry Leftists) that Obama's administration is the most incompetent administration this country has witnessed to date. So much for the vaunted Rahm Emanuel.
3.11.2009 9:10am
Jack Denver (mail):
AlanDownunder say "To anyone, Jew or non-Jew, who is not of a certain extra-planetary US-Israeli persuasion, Freeman's "offences" appear utterly inoffensive. Obama can be forgiven for thinking that such a reasonable nominee couldn't possibly be too hot to handle. Unfortunately, Arabs are drawing the obvious conclusion - one that will do US or Israeli diplomacy no favours."

This statement stinks to me... what is the persuasion that Alan is referring to? One does not have to be a Zionist to think that Freeman is not the right man for this job , that he is carrying too much excess baggage. The "obvious" conclusion that Alan and "Arabs" are drawn to also happens to be a wrong and racist conclusion - it wouldn't be the first time that happened - being an anti-Semite apparently affects your critical faculties and makes you believe all kinds of implausible stuff, so one more false (but "obvious") belief is the problem of those holding that belief, not Amerika's fault.
3.11.2009 9:11am
rick.felt:
I can't believe I'm defending Obama here, but I'm going to add another one, possibly #8 by now? It could be a combination of 2, 4, and especially 5, and it has to work in concert with some of the others:

8. Obama has less tolerance for scandal and low-level lawbreaking than past administrations.


I don't know if this is the case. I suppose the real test would be the comparative proportion of Obama nominees who become involved in scandal but manage to be confirmed anyway.

The only thing that can be said with certainty about Obama's attitude towards lawbreaking and corruption is that its importance wanes with the necessity of the position. Attorney General or Treasury secretary? Obama wants his guy in there, tax problems be damned. HHS secretary? Not necessary to getting his health insurance bills passed, so bye-bye Daschle.
3.11.2009 9:14am
Tanker J.D.:
"You talk to kids around the world, it might something a little like this":

1. Our political elites beleive they are above the rules, or at least that the rules are middling "details" that their "people" will take care of.

2. The tax code and ethics regs are overly mechanical and complex.

3. Obama discovered the campaign value in the message of renewed ethics in politics.

4. The rise of independent journalism enabled the electorate to hold Obama to his message.

5. Several high-profile nominees got caught with their hand in the cookie jar.

6. Which ruined it for less high-profile nominees who were only going for the crumbs.

7. The economy continues to tank and technocrats begin to realize that they might "own" a severe recession or even a depression.

8. Thus, the rats are now fleeing the sinking ship.

I think 'bout sums it up.
3.11.2009 9:15am
Joe The Plumber (mail):
This Administration is unusually poor at vetting people. (If so, why?)

Um, becasue "community organizing" doesn't prepare you for leadership or governance.

Senator "Present" is showing his true colors.

Note that the "stupid" people were all correct about Obama and the high minded "enlightened" ones were dead wrong.
3.11.2009 9:17am
Tanker J.D.:
Pardon my typos... pimf.
3.11.2009 9:19am
toadold (mail):
Vetting has gotten sloppier over the decades in my opinion for both parties. There is too much of a tendency to trust a nominee who has the same ideology and skimp on the tedious process of researching him by sending people out to ask questions of his friends and enemies. Used to you could get on the phone and check with the local newspaper reporters from the persons home towns and cities where he worked. Reporters aren't a very good source anymore, they tend to talk to each other, and do their investigating by phone themselves. It is expensive to do a good back ground check. I'm guessing about $25,000 for a mid level guy. People are seem to be reluctant to spend their campaign money for good evaluations and seem to have forgotten the concept of "murder" boards.
The hand writing on the wall for me was when "Slick Willey" was supported as a Presidential nominee. He had more baggage than the Orient Express. He won but at what long run costs?
3.11.2009 9:28am
Zach:
Despite the stories about the comprehensive vetting process, I've read a surprising number of stories mentioning that a particular derailed nominee hadn't been vetted. I believe Daschle didn't go through the normal process for example.

If that's true, you could have a double problem with vetting:
1) The regular process is overly comprehensive, overly slow and results in important spots not getting filled.

2) Because the regular process is so bad, some high profile nominees are exempted from it.
3.11.2009 9:44am
Joe The Plumber (mail):
On the one hand, Obama wants everyone to be squeaky clean, no lobbying ties, etc.

Not so much:

On February 20 the administration signed waivers for Jocelyn Frye, former general counsel at the National Partnership for Women &Families, and Cecilia Muñoz, the former senior vice president for the National Council of La Raza, allowing them to work on issues for which they lobbied.


That "no lobbyists" mantra was just more double-speak by the Administration...
3.11.2009 9:48am
Snaphappy:
The reason they need waivers is because the general rule is "no lobbyists."
3.11.2009 9:51am
The Internet:
It's my fault.
3.11.2009 9:52am
Swami (mail):
As a non-extraterrestrial American of fairly liberal worldview, here are some of Freeman's "offenses" that offend me:

Chas: "...there are movements, like Hamas, like Hezbollah, that in recent decades have not done anything against the United States or Americans..." 2002.

Wrong on three counts. 1) By this time, both groups already HAD attacked Americans. 2) It betrays a foul assumption that a terrorist group that hasn't actually attacked Americans is OK with us. I suppose Chas thinks whats-his-nuts in Sudan is not a problem, he's only been killing the people of Darfur, not Americans. 3) It implicitly assumes a "right" to extend a terror war to supporters of your opponent. Well, do we assume, then, that supporters of the Palestinians are fair game for Israelis to kill? Groups are Hamas, the LTTE, the Nepalese Maoists, the IRA, FARC, are BAD, whether or not they are actually and actively killing Americans.

Chas, in reference to the 9-11 attacks: "What 9/11 showed is that if we bomb people, they bomb back."

Wrong. We hadn't bombed either Saudi Arabia or Egypt, homelands of the perpetrators. In fact, we poured tons of cash on Egypt, underwrote the security of Saudi Arabia, and even supported the mujahadeen in their efforts in Afghanistan. So, at best, the 9-11 attacks can be counted as betrayal, not vengeance. Chas may well ask if it goes two ways- why haven't we bombed Saudi Arabia and Egypt?

Chas: "Israel excels at war; sadly, it has shown no talent for peace."

For the record, Israel has maintained an honest, peaceful relationship with every state that has signed a peace treaty with it, returned all lands claimed by those states to the saatisfaction of their governments, does not incite violence against those states nor support those who do, supports free traide and scientific and cultural exchange with those states. What nation has done better? The only states Israel has a problem with are those which are still at war with it- and to complain that "Israel is at war with those states that are at war with Israel" is absurd and tautological. Yes, their policies with the Palestinians have been overhanded- but not nearly as overhanded as Arab policy towards Israel, making this one sided assessment an example of bigotry.

Chas: "Our recovery from our strategic debacle in the Middle East will not be as rapid or sure as our recovery from defeat in Vietnam."

Bull. I was a soldier while the army was remaking itself and shaking off its post-Vietnam blues. Fat NCO's, drug abuse, more deaths from accidents than we get now from combat in Iraq, our post Vietnam army was a demoralized, poorly led, poorly equipped mess. The US Army today will not only rapidly rebuild (budget willing) after Iraq, but its transformative experiences there enable it to be better than ever. We emerge from Iraq with our local "friends"- Egypt, the Saudis, and the Gulf States, still friends, our local enemies either weakened (Syria and Libya) or more isolated (Iran), one local enemy transformed into a friend- Iraq. If Freeman thinks this is a debacle, he's a moron.
3.11.2009 10:01am
wuzzagrunt (mail):
Snaphappy:

On the one hand, Obama wants everyone to be squeaky clean, no lobbying ties, etc. On the other hand, a lot of talented people have done some lobbying here and there. Who knew that it would wind up being the mark of Cain?


I would expect Democrats would know, since they made so much hay from the lobbying scandals of the Republicans. Obama himself devoted considerable verbiage, on the campaign trail, to making "lobbyist" synomymous with "corrupt". It's a damned shame when a politician's own words are used against him. "The chickenzzzzz.....are coming home.....to rrrroost."

Re Chas Freeman, it seems to me that it was as much the left-o-sphere, as anyone else, who roundly (and rightly) criticized the Bush administration for their too-cozy relationship with the House of Saud.
3.11.2009 10:07am
Houston Lawyer:
A combination of chutzpah, overconfidence and incompetence. Obama has never done anything substantive, other than run a campaign. His political experience is in Chicago, where everyone is dirty. He really doesn't give a rat's ass about ethics, only using the issue as a stick to beat on his opponents. During the campaign, the media only reported what he wanted them to. He figured that this trend would continue forever.

Obama is showing that he has no class. After a while, even the liberal media will get tired of him blaming everything on Bush.
3.11.2009 10:12am
Joe T Guest:
None of the above. The Freeman case is sui juris Jewish.

I guess the fact that he was a paid Saudi lobbyist and praised the Chinese government massacre at Tiananmen Square didn't raise any questions of judgment or conflict of interest for you? Protocols of the Elders of the Israeli Lobby, right?

I am starting to think Israeli Lobby = Jewish-but-I'm-too-chicken-to-say-Jewish-in-mixed-company. Gotta have somebody to blame, might as well be an old reliable standby; all the better if we can dress it up in new, unrecognizable nomenclature.
3.11.2009 10:18am
cmb (mail):
There’s this obscure principle called Occam’s razor. You should look it up sometime. It seems to work pretty well, at least in the world of engineering which is where I come from. “Breathtaking incompetence’ with a dash of “Blind ambition” would seem to me to cover all the bases here.
3.11.2009 10:36am
cato-999 (mail):
Number 2. And the 'why' is very simple: Mr. Obama may be a very nice guy personally, but he is simply not competent to be President of the United States.

This is Affirmative Action writ large; the man was elected primarily because of his race (and to a lesser extent as a reaction to the disastrous Bush administration.) He would probably make a very good President of some leftie University, but he is totally over his head as President of the United States.
3.11.2009 10:49am
David Drake:
Geithner and Freeman are the only two cases that really trouble me (and I am a Catholic Republican).

Geithner: I think that someone's personal and financial life unrelated to his or her ability to perform the job should not disqualify. I don't understand why anyone would want to run for elected office or serve as a political appointee with the "politics of personal destruction" we've had for the last two or three decades.

With Geithner, the amount of unpaid taxes was so great, and impacts directly on the performance of his duties to, inter alia, supervise the IRS, that it should have disqualified him for Treasury Secretary. It did not because it was apparent to both sides of the aisle that he was an excellent choice for the position. Had the alleged disqualifying data been that he had a mistress, or that he was a [insert suspect religious sect of your choice], I would say "so what?"

Freeman: his articulated personal beliefs regarding China and Israel and his work on behalf of Saudi Arabia, lead me to believe he would not be a good appointment because he lacks the objectivity necessary to perform his duties.

I do think that Pres. Obama's previous executive inexperience, his having ruled out lobbyists, and the availibility of the internet to ferret out any information about a "public person" are most to blame for this, but as I said above, it's the culmination of decades of a "politics of personal destruction."
3.11.2009 10:58am
rick.felt:
I am starting to think Israeli Lobby = Jewish-but-I'm-too-chicken-to-say-Jewish-in-mixed-company.

There's an argument to be made that AIPAC is too powerful, just as it's possible to argue that any lobbying group (the NEA, Big Oil, Big Tobacco, etc.) is too powerful. I don't necessarily agree, but I welcome honest debate on the subject.

I'm not able to find honest debaters on the anti-AIPAC side, though. In my experience, people who make a special point of criticizing AIPAC have pretty much always been thinly veiled anti-Semites or at least chummy or comfortable with anti-Semites.

There's a difference between criticizing Israel and America's policies towards Israel, and focusing on AIPAC. There can be honest debate with those who are critical of Israel, but not really with people who make a big deal out of AIPAC.
3.11.2009 11:10am
Anthony A (mail):
It's because Democrats are more likely to have worked in fields where business and government are more intertwined, with all the possibilities for corruption, unclear standards of ethical behavior, and the conceit of doing well by doing "good". Republican appointees are more likely to have worked in the military, as prosecutors or in other purely government functions, or in businesses which do their best to not get entangled with government. All these fields have fairly clear standards of what is and is not acceptable, and fairly rigorous enforcement. Thus Republicans who are crooked are more likely to wash out before they reach sub-cabinet levels.
3.11.2009 11:19am
Al Reasin (mail) (www):
I suggest that there were few lessons learned from previous administrations' mistakes and Mr. Obama chose personality/ideology over substance. Example: Mr. Obama knew about Mr. Geithner's failure to pay taxes before he nominated him, but for some stupid reason didn't consider that a serious problem. Mr. Geithner did made it through confirmation, but it made Mr. Obama look obtuse. But Mr. Obama repeated the same mistakes with other nominees with tax problems and in line with his previous noticeable lack of good judgement, he supported them to the end even when it was apparent that some had sandbagged him.
3.11.2009 11:20am
arthur:
The premise is false. When the presidency changes parties there are lots of new nominees so there are lots of problems. It's hard to remember 2001, and harder to remember 1993 or 1981, but I haven't seen any evidence that there are more nomination problems now than then.
3.11.2009 11:33am
Adam J:
Felt- not to get too far off topic, but gimme a break- the reason there is no honest debate is largely because anyone who debates against the israeli lobby gets called anti-semite(obviously some are- but that label gets thrown on anyone &everyone who argues that the lobby is too strong). Just look at what Walt &Mearsheimer have gone through. And the auto lobby, big tobacco, etc. all get plenty of grief for being too powerful- so why shouldn't the israeli lobby get grief too?
3.11.2009 11:45am
Joe The Plumber (mail):
The reason they need waivers is because the general rule is "no lobbyists."

That's actually funny.

But not terribly flattering to you or your President.

There are over 300 million people in America, many of them recently unemployed, but Obama has to hire lobbiests after pledging not to.
3.11.2009 11:48am
NTB24601:
I see it as a over reaction to the prior administration. Correctly or otherwise, the Bush administration is widely portrayed as being unreasonably stubborn in refusing to admit mistakes. In reaction, the Obama administration seems to be rushing to admit mistakes. Consequently, the Obama administration finds it easier to "take a hit" and admit a mistake on a nominee than to dig in its heels and defend the nominee.
3.11.2009 11:50am
einhverfr (mail) (www):

There's an argument to be made that AIPAC is too powerful, just as it's possible to argue that any lobbying group (the NEA, Big Oil, Big Tobacco, etc.) is too powerful.


Well, there are two questions. Of course all of the above lobbies are too powerful, and they undercut American democracy. However the more important question is "why?"

The reason they are too powerful is that most folk are not engaged in the political process outside of election day. If the only folks talking to our legislators are lobbyists, we shouldn't be shocked that these are the only folks our legislators listen to...
3.11.2009 11:55am
Philistine (mail):
For some perspective, the historical appointments, confirmations, and withdrawals of Cabinet and Cabinet level appointees from Carter through Bush 43 are here.
3.11.2009 11:56am
JEM:
Partly poor vetting, partly faster/broader review of candidates by third parties (not the mainstream press), and partly that this administration has a tin ear for what the public considers 'controversial'.

Those doing the vetting simply don't see the problems these people have as being anything unusual.

Personally, I think that the Three Carbon Amigos - Holdren, Chu, and Browner - are potentially the most damaging of the bunch, and they got seated.
3.11.2009 12:00pm
Tony Tutins (mail):

I think Obama would be better served to keep his names closer to his vest until that person passes the vetting and then announce them.

The problem is that, aside from a few cloistered nuns and the Dalai Lama, nobody is squeaky clean enough to get a pass from every consituency. So at a certain point, you just have to put the name forward, and see who poops on it.

The fact is (the ugly fact for Angry Leftists) that Obama's administration is the most incompetent administration this country has witnessed to date.

Oh, I dunno. Don't forget that the administration just ended nominated the President's personal lawyer -- with neither judicial experience nor a record of legal scholarship -- to the Supreme Court.

And the President's pick for director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency was best known for being forced to resign as Judges and Stewards Commissioner for the International Arabian Horse Association, (IAHA), a position he held from 1989-2001.
3.11.2009 12:06pm
Thorley Winston (mail) (www):


I'd say #2. This administration is just flat-out incompetent. Obama's inexperience is all too apparent, and he doesn't even have the good sense to hire others who know what they are doing.



Agreed, until now the only thing Obama’s ever run is his mouth and his lack of executive skill is quickly becoming apparent, even to the MSM that ran interference for him during the campaign.

Moreover Obama’s spent most of his adult life working as a cog in a corrupt political machine and for all his talk of “reform,” he wouldn’t recognize clean and honest government if it bit him on the hindquarters. Which probably explains why he’s been blindsided so often by the ethical problems of some of his high profile nominees.
3.11.2009 12:10pm
Tony Tutins (mail):

There's a difference between criticizing Israel and America's policies towards Israel, and focusing on AIPAC. There can be honest debate with those who are critical of Israel, but not really with people who make a big deal out of AIPAC.

The "winner" here is the NRA, so demonized by the New York Times' editorial page you would think it was led by Sauron, and not Wayne LaPierre. Criticism of AIPAC is nothing by comparison.
3.11.2009 12:14pm
Kazinski:
How about the obvious:

Obama's standards for nominees have been lower than previous adminstrations.


I can't think of any administration that has nominated somebody with tax problems like Geitner and Daschle. Or somebody under grand jury investigation for corruption like Richardson.

Freeman is the exception. He is the only candidate that has been derailed because of ideological or policy concerns.
3.11.2009 12:25pm
jukeboxgrad's favorite YouTube video:
And the auto lobby, big tobacco, etc. all get plenty of grief for being too powerful- so why shouldn't the israeli lobby get grief too?

For the same reason that you can say that George W. Bush looks like a chimpanzee but you can't say that Barack Obama does: Discussions of how tiny groups of internationally funded Jews control U.S. foreign policy attract anti-Semites, and conjure up bigoted stereotypes of Jews.

The better tact is to argue the issue on the merits. Is America's policy towards the Palestinians the correct one? If it's not, convince me that it's not. You don't move the ball downfield by showing that America takes a particular stance toward Israel because AIPAC tells it to.
3.11.2009 12:56pm
Thorley Winston (mail) (www):
There's a difference between criticizing Israel and America's policies towards Israel, and focusing on AIPAC. There can be honest debate with those who are critical of Israel, but not really with people who make a big deal out of AIPAC.


That depends on what the actual issue is. I’m guessing that a lot (not all by any means) of the critics of AIPAC aren’t necessarily people who so much concerned about Israel’s policies but rather don’t like the idea of their government being lobbied to further the interests of another country and the way the political establishments in both parties have seemingly made the protection and furtherance of another country’s interests as part of their own country’s foreign policy. So for those folks it probably is more about protecting American sovereignty and trying to minimize the influence that foreign governments have over their government.
3.11.2009 1:09pm
luagha:
Part of these problems is what you don't see. Take the woman whose husband had some fairly cheap unpaid tax liens that had been hanging about for 10-15 years.

The question is not about the failure to pay, it's about why the government didn't follow standard procedure in collecting on the lien as it got older and older. She took her name off before the investigation got there, because if (say) it was discovered that influence was used, that would be a much much bigger scandal.
3.11.2009 1:26pm
Michael Ejercito (mail) (www):

On the other hand, a lot of talented people have done some lobbying here and there. Who knew that it would wind up being the mark of Cain?

Lobbying ties are not so much as disturbing to me as tax evasion, especially when one is being nominated to a post that oversees tax collection.
3.11.2009 1:35pm
AntonK (mail):
If you need any more evidence why Chas Freeman was not fit to hold the office of Director of the National Intelligence Council, have a look at his paranoid, antisemitic statement about his withdrawal: Exiting, Chas Freeman Attacks ‘Israel Lobby’.
Freeman says, “The libels on me and their easily traceable email trails show conclusively that there is a powerful lobby determined to prevent any view other than its own from being aired, still less to factor in American understanding of trends and events in the Middle East. The tactics of the Israel Lobby plumb the depths of dishonor and indecency and include character assassination, selective misquotation, the willful distortion of the record, the fabrication of falsehoods, and an utter disregard for the truth. The aim of this Lobby is control of the policy process through the exercise of a veto over the appointment of people who dispute the wisdom of its views, the substitution of political correctness for analysis, and the exclusion of any and all options for decision by Americans and our government other than those that it favors.”

Wow. This is the man Barack Obama picked for a sensitive job related to foreign policy.
3.11.2009 1:39pm
Tony Tutins (mail):
AntonK: exactly which part of Freeman's anti-Israel lobby screed is antisemitic? It's too subtle for me to detect.
3.11.2009 1:53pm
trad and anon (mail):
Do we actually know that there are more of these withdrawn nominees than there were in the past? A lot of past nominees have had nanny problems—either hiring illegal immigrants, or not paying the employer portion of their nannies' payroll taxes, or both. And of course both those practices are super-common among the elites who tend to get picked for these high-level posts.

Someone should run a Nexis search and find out just how many withdrawn nominees Clinton and Bush had.
3.11.2009 2:16pm
AntonK (mail):
Tony Tutins say, "It's too subtle for me to detect." Pity.
3.11.2009 2:37pm
Bruce Hayden (mail):
My vote is 2 and 6, as a result of coming of age in a corrupt political machine and not having any real executive experience.

Maybe I am the one with the faulty memory, but I do not remember anywhere near this level of dumped nominees under Bush (43), and do remember at the time thinking that he was doing a much better job vetting in comparison to the problems that Clinton had filling his Administration (anyone else here remember all the nanny problems, or all the guys running around the White House without needed clearances in 1993?)

Daschle was esp. humorous, getting in trouble for not claiming the chauffeured limo, after putting out a campaign video a couple years before showing the old smoky car that he still proudly drove as a Senator.

One suggestion that I think has been overlooked is that maybe the Democrats most likely to get the nod really are more corrupt, esp. when it comes to paying taxes, than their Republican counterparts. Why might that be the case? My guess is that while there are a lot of career politicians on the Republican side, there are fewer as a proportion. The problem with career politicians is that most of them seem to get more corrupt as time goes on as they serve in office and work for the government. There are any number of theories why. Overall though, it just isn't as respectable for Republicans to spend their life on the public dole, either as an elected representative, or working for a government.

Also note that Democrats seem to be esp. vulnerable to tax and lobbying scandal claims, while Republicans are more vulnerable to sex scandal claims. Barney Frank can get away with a male prostitution ring being run out of his Congressional offices, and Ted Kennedy may have been a well known philanderer, but Larry Craig got in a lot more trouble than either one for playing footsie in the restroom with a cop, something that probably wouldn't have received much notice if he had been a Democrat (but, then there was Gary Hart...) Possibly, the tax and nanny issues are worse for Democrats since they are the ones who are more likely to be raising taxes on everyone, but then evading them themselves. In both cases, it is the hypocrisy that makes it worse.
3.11.2009 2:39pm
Tony Tutins (mail):

I can't think of any administration that has nominated somebody with tax problems like Geitner and Daschle. Or somebody under grand jury investigation for corruption like Richardson.

How soon they forget. What about W.'s nominee Bernie Kerik? From Slate:

* Bernard Kerik - nominated, Secretary, Department of Homeland Security - withdrew his nomination amidst a host of corruption allegations. Eventually pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor relating to improper gifts totaling tens of thousands of dollars while he was a New York City official in the late 1990’s. Subsequently, on November 8, 2007, Kerik was indicted on sixteen counts for bribery, tax fraud, and false statements with a maximum sentence of 142 years and more than $5 million in fines. Kerik has pleaded not guilty.

A lot of past nominees have had nanny problems—either hiring illegal immigrants,

Again, W. fills the bill:

* Linda Chavez - nominated, Secretary of Labor - withdrew her nomination in January 2001 amidst revelations that an illegal immigrant lived in her home and worked for her in the early 1990s. Chavez blamed what she said were the “search-and-destroy” politics of Washington.

There's a sort of Bush-related Alzheimer's going on here.
3.11.2009 2:45pm
DG:
{The "winner" here is the NRA, so demonized by the New York Times' editorial page you would think it was led by Sauron, and not Wayne LaPierre. Criticism of AIPAC is nothing by comparison.}

Sauron would have led a horde of orcs to destroy Gun Control Inc and used his Lidless Burning Eye to ensure strict compliance with NRA legislative issues.

That wasn't too geeky, was it?
3.11.2009 3:18pm
arbitraryaardvark (mail) (www):
Gary Aldritch's Unlimited Access is a good book about problems with Clinton nominees. I think it would make a great film.
3.11.2009 3:50pm
josil (mail):
Maybe it is simply difficult to find people with integrity who are politicians or those that hang around with them. When they are in power, that power is often used for political (vice national) advantage. When they are out of power, they still hang around in DC in lobbyist jobs, foundations, "think" tanks, etc. Maybe we need to select from those at lower levels of society so that the corruption does not appear at the time of appointment.
3.11.2009 4:21pm
Toby:
There is an old mountain proverb "When you send a man to the serve in the legislature, he leanrs to govern; when you send a man back to the legislature, he learns to steal."

Good old Buncombe county (pronounced bunkum, and yes, politicians speaking after debate is over for the benifit of the home town newspapers back in Buncombe county is the source for the slang)
3.11.2009 6:08pm
JoeSixpack (mail):
I vote for #4. The Obama campaign actually had to buy a second bus because there was no more room to throw people under the first one. Given how quickly he was willing to jettison his spiritual mentor of 20 years when he became inconvenient, none of his associations have any reason to expect to be safe.
3.11.2009 6:41pm
Shelby (mail):
I just heard Chas Freeman on NPR's Talk of the Nation explain that he of course gets nothing in exchange for his work for the (I think it was) Middle East Intelligence Foundation. He then went on to say he actually gets a "trivial" amount of $76,000 per year for that work. Wow.
3.11.2009 8:19pm
Shelby (mail):
Ah, sorry, it was the "Middle East Policy Council", formerly the "Arab American Affairs Council".
3.11.2009 8:21pm
Waldo (mail):
I think it's a version of #6 combined with the Internet. While I don't believe that this Administration is deliberately proposing controversial nominees, I do think they're unconsciously ignoring their tax problems.

I'd propose that's partly due to the culture of academia, which is both more liberal and less profit-oriented than most of society. I suspect that the belief in academia is that anyone willing to volunteer for public service should be given the benefit of the doubt regarding taxes. After all, the purpose of tax enforcement is to catch greedy corporate executives, not prospective public servants.

Given the current economic crisis, there's also a valid argument that the most qualified person shouldn't be disqualified simply because of a personal failing. (Would you decline to be operated on by the most qualified heart surgeon simply because he is a racist?) I suspect there may be a "What's the matter with Kansas?" discussion happening in the Administration now.

Finally, the Administration's vetting form also seemed to be based largely on voluntary disclosure (i.e.- Is there anything in your background...) Yet, if a nominee doesn't believe something is a problem, why report it? However, those nominations are now also vetted by anyone whose interested, via the Internet. Those other vetters have somewhat different opinions on whether tax enforcement should focus on public servants.
3.11.2009 9:35pm
Uh, Clem (mail):
There's not much comfort in it, but 59,934,814 Americans are saying, "I told you so."
3.11.2009 10:03pm
Thorley Winston (mail) (www):
I suspect there may be a "What's the matter with Kansas?" discussion happening in the Administration now.


I think you might be right but part of the Administration’s problem might be that there really isn’t anyone in Obama’s inner circle asking the question “what if there isn’t anything wrong with Kansas and the problem actually lies with us?”
3.12.2009 12:34pm
Brian Tucker (mail):
trad and anon: did you miss the link to the pdf above?

Bush younger: 2 (in two terms)

Clinton: 3 (again, two terms)

Bush elder: 1

IMHO, Barak is nearing an order of magnitude greater. I vote for the venality of the candidate pool (see:politicians), the incompetence of the administration, and the incompetence of the administration. Do I repeat myself? Why, yes. Why? Cause the message doesn't seem to be getting through - oh, wait, I just saw Rasmussen...
3.13.2009 4:33pm

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