Technorati Tags: Alan Greenspan, Ayn Rand, Barack Obama, Budgetball, Caddyshack, Death Race 2000, Deficit Commission, Deficit Reduction, Deficit Summit, Marie Antoinette, Pete Peterson, Politics News, Robert Rubin, The Fountainhead, Washington Post
And it could work.
The plan is to channel anti-Wall Street rage into an overall fury at "them" - big government, "liberal elites," everybody who seems to be better off than you and your family - and turn that rage toward the political party that most favors banks. It's not a new game. It's been going on since Nixon and Agnew inverted the historical understanding of the GOP as the party of big business and successfully painted the Democrats as a snobby group of elitists.
It's based on a simple bait-and-switch: Make sure that people stay angry at the bailout, which will essentially be history by the time of the next major election, and keep them from thinking about deregulation, which was the initial cause of the crisis. Emphasize the big bonuses - an artifact of the bailout - and ignore the rapacious and greedy behavior permitted by the weakening of oversight and actions like the repeal of Glass-Steagall.
That plan needs Democrats clumsy enough to let themselves be painted into a corner, despite their more middle-class-friendly proposals. Sadly, as back in Nixon's day, Dems seem happy to oblige. The President's hapless remarks yesterday about bonuses for Jamie Dimon and Lloyd Blankfein weren't quite as bad as some have painted them, when taken in context - but the problem is what Democrats haven't yet learned: People don't take remarks like these "in context." Nuance isn't an effective response to fury or desperation.
Democrats disparage Palin's speaking skills, but she spoke to the public's frustration much more effectively: "While people on Main Street look for jobs, people on Wall Street -- they're collecting billions and billions in your bailout bonuses ... Where are the consequences? They helped to get us into this worst economic situation since the Great Depression. Where are the consequences?"
Contrast that with Obama's "I know both those guys; they are very savvy businessmen ... I, like most of the American people, don't begrudge people success or wealth. That is part of the free-market system." Palin came across like Jimmy Stewart in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, while the President sounded like Mr. Drysdale from The Beverly Hillbillies.
Granted, the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision makes groveling for corporate cash an even greater part of the political process than before. Even reliable Democratic ATMs like JPMorganChase (led by "very savvy businessman" Dimon) are firing a warning shot across Democrats' bow by stuffing fat wads of cash in the GOP kitty. Not that Democrats aren't benefiting plenty from Wall Street largesse - Chuck Schumer's still their #1 Capitol Hill beneficiary - but Dems are pushing for tighter regulation and far better oversight than the GOP would provide (not enough, but better.)
The irony is that this "populist" movement was a creation of the wealthy and privileged from the start. The "tea party" phrase arose, supposedly spontaneously, from the lips of CNBC reporter Rick Santelli. Santelli, a former futures trader himself, led a televised mock "uprising" of other traders - the very people responsible for the problem - against any effort to help homeowners seduced or duped by banks offering irresponsible mortgages. (A more odious display of sanctimonious self-righteousness is almost unimaginable.) Yet a variety of domain names related to the phrase "Tea Party" had already been registered before Santelli used the term, by organizations tied to ultraconservative and Republican interests. (More here - apologies for the repellent title, but the reporting's good.)
A quick review of the organizers behind what the National Journal calls "12 Key Tea Party Players to Watch" gives us the following:
- A Republican Senator (Tom Coburn)
- A wealthy New York real estate developer (Howard Rich)
- the ultraconservative head of Koch Industries (David Koch)
- a former Republican House Majority Leader (Dick Armey)
- the son of a Republican Member of Congress (Ned Ryun)
- the former campaign manager for a Republican Member of Congress (Frank Anderson)
- a former Republican member of the California Assembly (Howard Kaloogian)
- a fulminating Fox News mouthpiece (Glenn Beck)
- a former speechwriter for George H. W. Bush (Michael Johns)
It seems as if the only influential individual without glaring ties to the GOP or the ultra-right is the organizer of the Convention that hosted Palin, and he's a Nashville DUI attorney. (Write your own joke, as Ed McMahon used to say.) If the GOP/Tea Party connection isn't obvious enough already, in South Carolina they made it official. The Republican party and the Tea Partiers agreed to share a variety of resources, turning a long-time flirtation into a vow of marriage.
The "anti-bank" Tea Party movement's a Republican front, and Republicans are actively marketing themselves to Wall Street as a better - make that even better - bang for their campaign contribution buck than the Democrats.
The GOP's push for "less regulation" is exactly what the banking industry needs to confirm its absolute dominance over the American economy. It would ensure that its excesses are never curbed, perpetuating a system where bankers reap the rewards of success and taxpayers bear the cost of failure. And what's the other centerpiece of Republican economic policy?
Privatizing Social Security.
Where would everybody's Social Security dollars go under a privatization scheme? Why, to Wall Street, of course. The Tea Party plan is simple: Use anti-bank rage to help the Republicans win, so they can give banks even more power. Can the banksters really outsmart the Democrats and pull off a trick like that? From the look of things, the answer might well be:You betcha.
It hurts to lose a Senate seat but, hey - setbacks happen in politics. What's really discouraging is the sight of Democrats, from the White House on down, refusing to accept responsibility for their own part in this loss. That, more than the loss itself, is reason for grave concern about health reform - and the party's future.
I thought people involved in failure were supposed to look at their part in the problem, then step up and take responsibility for it. Watching the Democrats, those thoughts feel like relics from an archaic age. In old Britain, chivalric values required a Lady or Gentleman who let their side down to go into their study with a pistol and "do the right thing." Not these folks: They're too busy taking pot shots at each other.
It is, as Daffy Duck might observe, "an exathperatin' development."
There's plenty of blame to go around. Nate Silver's conclusions about what went wrong are smart and incisive. His back-of-the-envelope appraisal suggests that the seat would have remained Democratic if not for either one of two factors: Martha Coakley's terrible campaign, and a national environment that's turned toxic for Democrats. That means that the Coakley campaign and those responsible for the national environment (i.e. the Party leadership) are both responsible.
Forget the Coakley people for now, since they've had their shot: What are party leaders saying? Everybody's grandstanding, pushing their own agendas. Evan Bayh, for example, insists the problem is that Democrats haven't followed his centrist agenda. And let's review Joe Lieberman's recent comments ... Ah, let's not. The guy already gets too much press.
Both Lieberman and Bayh are wrong, anyway. Here are the first results from after-vote polling in Massachusetts: By a 3 to 2 margin, Obama voters who voted for Brown thought that Obama's reform bill "doesn't go far enough." And those Obama voters who didn't bother voting felt that way by a 6 to 1 margin. 82% of Obama voters who went for Brown (and 86% of those who stayed home) support a public option. And 57% of Brown voters said that Obama is "not delivering enough" on change.
Are you listening, Democrats? Or do the voices of the Lieberman/Bayh do-nothing caucus ring louder in your ears? We hear what we want to hear, after all. Case in point: Before the first vote was even cast, Rahm Emanuel was already blaming Coakley - and Coakley alone - for the loss of the seat. And David Axelrod was insisting that the unpopularity of the health reform bill was due the "caricature" its opponents had painted. Is the problem only caricature, and even a little content ? Besides, who's responsible for messaging around there?
Bill Scher asks a logical question: How could Massachusetts voters who like their own reform (58% are in favor) oppose a national health initiative that looks so similar? One answer is clear from the polling: 61% believe the government can't afford to pay for it, even though reform could reduce the deficit. Another sign comes from the same poll that showed 58% support: People who have been directly affected by the law like it less.
The unpopularity of national reform in Massachusetts wouldn't have been a surprise if Democrats had been more willing to look at the data there: While a whopping 79% of Massachusetts residents wanted to keep their reform, according to a Boston Globe/Harvard School of Public Health poll from last September, they "were nearly evenly split on whether Massachusetts could afford to continue with the law." Why? Because that state's reform hasn't done enough to contain costs - and neither would the President's. That poll was an overlooked warning sign.
Obama's let-Congress-do-it process also hurt. It cast a spotlight on the Senate, giving the public a front-row seat as concession after concession was made to the insurance industry. Even if the end result resembles Massachusetts', the unseemly spectacle tainted it - and its architects.
As Massachusetts voters cried out for meaningful cost containment, the White House decided to emphasize the "Cadillac tax" as its solution. But that tax unfairly targets people based on demographics and won't contain costs. (More info here.) And polls show that it's wildly unpopular. So after remaining passive while the popular public option died, the Administration finally weighed in - by pushing an ineffective and essentially indiscriminate tax based on widely-challenged, right-leaning economic theory.
And Dems seem to have forgotten that Massachusetts is more liberal than the country overall. 58% support there could translate to much less support nationwide. Even in that progressive state, a majority of people want reform improved - and that's with no organized resistance from the Right! Replicate that law in Red States, with Republicans in full revolt and tea-partiers parading in the streets, and you could be facing disaster. Throw in a regressive middle-class tax and the public perception that special interests drove the process, and the picture gets downright ugly.
Sadly, there's no sign that Democratic leaders are paying attention. Sure, they can pass the Senate bill as is, but that could hurt them - unless they immediately pass an amendment which creates a public option. The reconciliation process would be entirely appropriate, since a public option would decrease the Federal deficit. They could pass some genuine cost-containment measures that way, too, and jettison the neo-right-wing rain dance that is the Cadillac tax.
We only can hope that Democrats eventually learn from this experience, that they'll stop placing blame and start taking responsibility. There's a word for that:
Recently Larry Summers was quoted as saying that unemployment levels in the US are "unacceptably high." He then went on to say that unemployment "will on all forecasts remain unacceptably high for a number of, for a number of years."
Wait. If Larry Summers - and presumably the rest of the Administration - really feels that way, why will these figures remain high? And for "years"? The Roosevelt Administration was able to cut unemployment in half - from 25% to 12.5% - in its first three years. If these figures are really "unacceptable," why is Larry Summers simply accepting this forecast - and repeating it - instead of telling us how the White House plans to change it?
Studies have shown that unemployment causes lasting emotional trauma and physical health problems, as well as the obvious financial hardship. It's nice to know Larry Summers deplores the situation. Now wouldn't it be great if he had a job where he could do something about it?
In other words: If you're not trying to fix a situation, you don't really find it "unacceptable."
If Mr. Summers believes that high unemployment is necessary in order to stabilize financial markets, he's free to explain that (or do the politically advisable thing and avoid the subject altogether.) But it makes no sense for a senior White House official to say these numbers are "unacceptable" - and will be for some time - and then say nothing about how the White House plans to handle it. It sounds like double-talk.
Is the White House tone deaf, or deaf to the suffering caused by unemployment? Until they announce a comprehensive plan for reducing unemployment, observers will be likely to conclude the answer is: both.
Regarding tone, both Mr. Summers and Tim Geithner have proven to be weak at carrying the Administration's message to the public, a fact which has not helped the President sell his economic message.
On another level, however, comments like Mr. Summers' seem to be a part of a very strange behavior pattern among leading Democrats. They have the tendency to portray themselves as passive actors - victims, almost - when speaking of circumstances that it's very much in their power to change. It's reminiscent of the way centrist Democrats talk about the public option in the Senate. They tell us with great regret that even the watered-down plan currently being proposed "won't pass" - without saying that it won't pass because they don't intend to vote for it.
It's the "spit on my head and tell me it's raining" school of political communication, and it's not likely to win Democrats very many friends. It doesn't just appear evasive. It comes across as a kind of political Stockholm Syndrome.
It's looking as if the problem is more than just tone, however. As Bob Herbert and others have increasingly observed, the White House is taking victory laps over its rescue of Wall Street without addressing the continued suffering on Main Street. All this celebration in the midst of misery is beginning to take on a Marie Antoinette-ish feel. It's no longer enough for Democrats to shake their heads and make clucking sounds of regret at the bad news all around them. They need to tell us what they're doing about it.
Granted, the power of the Presidency has its limits. So does the power of the legislative branch. But Democrats are in charge of both branches now. They need to act like it - and talk like it. Sustained unemployment is methodically dismantling the American middle class. If that's not the outcome Democrats are seeking, now would be a good time to take some action.
The time for talking is over.
We can find out which medical treatments work best with "clinical effectiveness research" (CER). Newt and Hillary both love it - but some people are against it just because the President supports it. They say these measurements would be too "arbitrary." Well, speaking of arbitrary measurements ...
It's Day 100. That's early to draw any conclusions, but people will anyway (bringing to mind Henny Youngman's opening line, delivered as he walked out on stage: "How do you like me so far?") A fairer measurement might be: How have these 100 days measured up against expectations? Giving a single grade would be too arbitrary, so we'll give several instead, like doctors do when they check your vital signs:
Building Public Support
So, has the President been effective at articulating the need for health care reform? Has he been building a broad base of support for the idea that we need to change the system? What, are you kidding? This is Obama we're talking about. When we talk about communications we're in his house - and it shows in the polling numbers.
You'd think that the economic crisis might lead people to conclude "we can't afford health reform right now." While that's a familiar refrain in Congress, the public's singing another tune. An April poll by the Kaiser Foundation shows that "59% of U.S. residents believe health care reform is now more important than ever," while only 37% say that "reform would be too costly to attempt during the current economic climate."
That's a home run for the President.
How did he achieve these numbers? First, by adopting a position forcefully supported by Peter Orszag (according to Ryan Lizza's New Yorker profile): that health reform, if done correctly, is deficit reduction. The New Yorker piece describes Orszag's "obsession" with "the findings of a research team at Dartmouth showing that some regions of the country spend far more money on health care than others but that patients in those high-spending areas don't have better outcomes than those in regions that spend less money." That would be the Dartmouth Atlas of Health Care, designed by Dr. John Wennberg. It's a critical tool for understanding how healthcare works in this country.
Orszag's fascination with this kind of research has pushed ideas like CER and results-based doctor reimbursement to the forefront, and Obama's been able to communicate the notion that reform can be cost-effective, despite scare-mongering on the topic from his opponents. That's a big win.
It wasn't supposed to be this way. By now Health Czar Tom Daschle was supposed to have used his DC experience, his insight into the healthcare system, and the power vested in him by the President to launch health reform in a broad and dramatic way. But the Daschle nomination was derailed and the HHS spot stayed open. Things should start to pick up with today's news that Kathleen Sebelius' nomination is moving forward.
Progress in filling top health positions has been slow, as the Washington Post points out. This was inevitable, given the delay in filling the top slot, and it should change now. And while there was some grumbling in the press about empty seats during a potential epidemic, there's nothing to suggest that the interim players haven't been covering things just fine.
Power is always decentralized in Washington, and even more so when the President is a consensus-builder by nature and by choice. In the absence of a 'czar,' influence has coalesced around players like Peter Orszag and Sen. Max Baucus. Orszag has been exploring some of the more interesting corners of health policy research, while Baucus has defined core principles for the Democratic leadership.
Then there's Ezekiel Emanuel, the physician who's also a martial arts black belt (thus capable of controlling both supply and demand for his services). Dr. Emanuel (yes, he's Rahm's brother) is on Orzsag's staff. He's a contrarian and innovator by nature. He'll probably serve as an idea generator and internal gadfly.
The President also appointed David Blumenthal, M.D., as his Health IT Coordinator. Dr. Blumenthal's a health policy expert, not a techie, so he'll probably focus on building an information base for policy objectives. With them all, Obama seems to be building a healthcare team that's strong on imagination and execution.
Grade: B (but expected to rise soon).
We're not much closer to a health policy blueprint than we were on Inauguration Day. Is that a flaw? Not necessarily. Health analysts used to speak of the three qualities of medical care delivery as structure, process, and outcome. Most people focus on structure and outcome, but the President is very much a "process" leader.
We're still in the "process" stage. It began when the President indicated that he'd like to have a consensus bill that includes significant Republican support. While he hasn't withdrawn that statement, he has indicated that he's willing to pass a health bill through the reconciliation process if necessary. That suggests he has basic policy goals he won't compromise, and that he'll override the GOP if necessary to enact them.
What are they? He's not giving specifics yet. He's sketched out broad objectives - rewarding cost-effective medicine, health IT, universal access, and choice - but that's about it. He stood apart from candidates Clinton and Edwards last year in his opposition to health mandates, saying they hadn't been proven necessary to achieve universal coverage. He's not saying that now, and he may have signalled a walk back from that position when he indicated that key reform provisions will be designed in Congress. (Max Baucus supports mandates.)
He's also staying flexible on the "public plan option," which would allow people to buy into a Medicare-like program that would compete with private insurers. As we discussed earlier (in The Sentinel Effect and a radio interview with Bill Scher), these two issues are the defining areas in the struggle to define health reform - both practically and politically. A plan that requires people to buy coverage, but only from private insurers, would be a difficult sell.
Is he behind schedule on defining his health policy? That's the wrong question. He's on a different schedule, one that favors process over policy. He's using the first half of 2009 (or so) to build consensus. If that means leaving critical questions unanswered for now, he's prepared to do that.
Grade: If you want to grade him on outcome already, you don't understand the President.
So where does this leave us? President Obama has not backed down from his commitment to health reform. That means something will be proposed this year, and something will be enacted into law. "Don't talk too soon," said Bob Dylan, "the wheel's still in spin." Turning this process into a meaningful outcome will probably be even harder than the President and his team expect. But it's not impossible - and, as we keep getting reminded, it's needed even more when times are hard.
In what may become a new Opening Day tradition, John McCain threw out the first cranky1 when debate on Kathleen Sebelius' nomination began this week . That means the topic of health reform is about to heat up even more, and it's getting hard to tell the players without a scorecard.
Here's a handy guide to the action: The debate now centers on two key proposals - the 'public plan option,' and mandates that require individuals and businesses to obtain health coverage. While you'll hear about other issues (including fearmongering about health IT), they represent the real fight. And the ground may be shifting as some Democrats draw what may be the wrong conclusions from reform efforts in Massachusetts.
The public plan option offers people under 65 the ability to bypass private insurance and enroll in a government-run plan, similar to (but separate from) Medicare. "Mandates" come in two forms - one that requires employers to offer health coverage, and one that requires individuals to obtain coverage (either from their employer or privately) or face penalties.
The public plan option would act as a restraint on private insurers and generate innovative cost-cutting measures. But some object because they believe it would become a virtual monopsony (like a monopoly, but where one buyer dominates a market), giving it "unfair advantage" over the private sector. That position may have some inherent logical flaws (e.g. if the free market does a better job why does it need protecting?), but the President has shown a certain amount of sympathy for it.
Mandates help manage costs by ensuring that healthy people, as well as those more likely to need care, join the plan. But forcing individuals to pay costly premiums to profit-making ventures could become an onerous burden and an politically unpopular move.
Health policy experts support mandates for sound economic reasons, but they bring significant practical and political problems -- unless they are combined with a public plan option, as in the proposal put forward by Prof. Jacob Hacker. (I interviewed Hacker about it here.) Combining the two programs should help limit premiums to an affordable level, expecially with government support at higher income levels. That's important.
Bishop Robinson gave a moving invocation before yesterday's Inaugural concert, placing today's human rights struggles in the historical context of Kennedy and King. There's video here, hand-recorded by Sarah Pulliam at Christianity Today. It's a shame more people didn't hear it:
“O God of our many understandings, we pray that you will bless us with tears -- tears for a world in which over a billion people exist on less than a dollar a day, where young women in many lands are beaten and raped for wanting an education, and thousands die daily from malnutrition, malaria, and AIDS.
Bless this nation with anger -- anger at discrimination, at home and abroad, against refugees and immigrants, women, people of color, gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people.
Bless us with discomfort at the easy, simplistic answers we’ve preferred to hear from our politicians, instead of the truth about ourselves and our world, which we need to face if we are going to rise to the challenges of the future.
Bless us with patience and the knowledge that none of what ails us will be fixed anytime soon, and the understanding that our new president is a human being, not a messiah.
Bless us with humility, open to understanding that our own needs as a nation must always be balanced with those of the world.
Bless us with freedom from mere tolerance, replacing it with a genuine respect and warm embrace of our differences.
Bless us with compassion and generosity, remembering that every religion’s God judges us by the way we care for the most vulnerable.
And God, we give you thanks for your child, Barack, as he assumes the office of President of the United States.
Give him wisdom beyond his years, inspire him with President Lincoln’s reconciling leadership style, President Kennedy’s ability to enlist our best efforts, and Dr. King’s dream of a nation for all people.
Give him a quiet heart, for our ship of state needs a steady, calm captain.
Give him stirring words; We will need to be inspired and motivated to make the personal and common sacrifices necessary to facing the challenges ahead.
Make him color-blind, reminding him of his own words that under his leadership, there will be neither red nor blue states, but the United States.
Help him remember his own oppression as a minority, drawing on that experience of discrimination, that he might seek to change the lives of those who are still its victims.
Give him strength to find family time and privacy, and help him remember that even though he is president, a father only gets one shot at his daughters’ childhoods.
And please, God, keep him safe. We know we ask too much of our presidents, and we’re asking far too much of this one. We implore you, O good and great God, to keep him safe. Hold him in the palm of your hand, that he might do the work we have called him to do, that he might find joy in this impossible calling, and that in the end, he might lead us as a nation to a place of integrity, prosperity, and peace. Amen."
(hat tip to Joan Walsh for the link and the text)
The 44th President of the United States takes office tomorrow. But for all the excitement, people are still struggling to categorize Barack Obama. Will he be a progressive President or a centrist? Will he succeed in bringing us out of this economic crisis? Can he achieve greatness?
The future has yet to be written. But here's a 1996 Obama quote for a French book on marriage, given before he had decided on a career in politics: "I think that in a certain way, I've tried all my life to fabricate a family through stories, memories, friends or ideas."
That's the first key to understanding Obama's governance style, at least for me: He is a storyteller. His speeches lay out a vision of the country he sees and the country he would like to see, much as his books use his own story as a lens through which to view the world around him. Storytellers are usually observers, not participants - and Obama is both. He refuses to participate in the usual conflicts or group associations, including Democrat/Republican or left vs. right. Observers can continue to be frustrated or infuriated by this, or they can accept that this characteristic - call it "participant/observer" or "storyteller" - is part of his nature.
To "fabricate a family" - interesting choice of words. "Fabrication" is a manufacturing process, a builder's activity. That means that stories, friends, memories, and ideas are the raw materials with which he hopes to manufacture a family. Maybe I'm reading too much into this, but I find it easier to understand Obama's selection of Rick Warren, his outreach to Republicans, the "We Are One" inaugural theme, or even his goal of getting 80 votes for his stimulus plan, in the context of this "family builder" part of his personality.
To fabricate a family with stories is to do what therapist/writers like James Hillman and Judith Herman have advocated for years: To reclaim our own biographies, to redirect our own stories in service of others. And it's not a solitary activity. It needs to be done in collaboration with others. It needs to become part of a collective healing process.
There are those who disagree with me, who say that this kind of writing is over-intellection, and that Barack Obama is just another centrist politician in the Democratic mold of the last eight years. They may be right. But if so, then why have the results been so different so far for this politician? The President-Elect is clearly able to communicate in ways that others have not, but without a clear-cut ideology.
Absence of ideology is not absence of values or creed. For Obama, it seems, the ideology is developed by action and the creed is measured by results. He appears to be a pragmatist at heart, but one who wants to elevate "getting things done" to the level of vision and principle. Call him an "inspirational pragmatist."
Can he succeed this way? Can he tell a story that builds a sense of common purpose where there has been none? That would require such a dramatic shift from the politics of the last twenty years, such a triumph over the degrading of our discourse, that it might qualify him for greatness. Can he do it?
Greatness doesn't exist independently, either in the individual or the conditions around them. Greatness is a dialog between the individual and history. The crises that accompany the new President certainly provide opportunities to excel, just as they offer plenty of opportunities to fail. The future is unwritten, and Barack Obama has given himself a tall order. He has told us, and himself, that he will not only addresses these grave problems, but that he will tell us a new story in the process. That story will challenge, and even frustrate, many of us. But it is Barack Obama's story, and he has chosen to tell it.
And by choosing him as our 44th President, we have chosen to write that story with him. Anyone who has collaborated with someone else on a writing project knows that it can be a complex and sometimes contentious process. But with work and luck the result can be a story that binds, a story that compels. A story that builds.
A story that heals.
photo by Allen McInnis
Gay Episcopal Bishop Gene Robinson will be at the inaugural celebration, as reported here and elsewhere:
Not that I'm taking credit or anything, but I did write this in the Huffington Post on December 18, in a piece on politics and conflict resolution:
I'm sure many other people had the same thought.
It's not clear from the story how much time will elapse between Bishop Robinson's prayer and the inauguration itself. I hope he gets a lot of press attention.
There are lessons to be learned from Sen. Dianne Feinstein's reaction to the nomination of Leon Panetta as CIA head. One is that powerful Democratic Senators can be no less sensitive or arbitrary than their GOP counterparts. Another is that the phrase "intelligence professional" can be used like a mantra without being properly defined for the public. Nevertheless, the appointment of a "politician" to run the CIA is not inherently wrong. It can be a good or bad thing -- depending on how it's done, and by whom.
Senatorial Prerogative: "I was not informed about the selection of Leon Panetta to be the CIA Director," Sen. Feinstein said. "I know nothing about this, other than what I've read." While that appears to have been an oversight on the Obama team's part, it's surprising that she made such a public issue of what is little more than a breach of DC protocol. It might have been wiser to communicate her sense of wounded pride privately. Now, voters will be left wondering whether any future resistance to the Panetta nomination comes from high-minded concern or merely a politician's ego.
Sen. Feinstein's statement goes on to say: "My position has consistently been that I believe the Agency is best-served by having an intelligence professional in charge at this time."
This reaction is particularly telling when looking back at the nominations she didn't oppose. She voted for Gen. Michael Hayden's confirmation as National Director of Intelligence, for example, despite the fact that intelligence agencies had conducted spying operations on Quakers and other peaceful antiwar groups in the US during his watch. (Data on these groups was stored in a Defense Department database, as documented by NBC News.)
Nor was "professionalism" an appropriate defense for Hayden. He sponsored a technology initiative called Trailblazer, which never worked and went millions of dollars over budget. A failure this costly and spectacular would have been a career-ender for any executive in the private sector, but Sen. Feinstein still voted to confirm him.
She also voted to confirm Porter Goss, who - like Mr. Panetta - was a career politician tapped to serve the Bush Administration. Goss had also made highly inflammatory and deprecating remarks about Democrats and other Americans who differed with him on policy. Feinstein expressed "concerns" and said the nomination was "troubling," but voted for him just the same. Goss was a former CIA officer, however, which gets us to the issue of ...
Intelligence "Professionalism": Although Goss was a highly political choice, his CIA experiences leads us to the question of what it means to be an intelligence "professional." Panetta's opponents are telling us that's a prerequisite for the job. If you're confused about what that means, you're not alone. Nor are quotes like this one from Prof. Amy Zegart of UCLA likely to help: "It's a puzzling choice and a high-risk choice ... The best way to change intelligence policies from the Bush administration responsibly is to pick someone intimately familiar with them. This is intelligence, not tax or transportation policy. You can't hit the ground running by reading briefing books and asking smart questions."
There are two problems with this argument. First, neither Prof. Zegart nor anyone else has explained why intelligence issues are qualitatively more difficult to understand that tax or transportation policy, both of which are complex and have more than their shared of trained professionals. Secondly, Mr. Panetta is not a newcomer to intelligence issues. As Bill Clinton's Chief of Staff, he ensured that the President reviewed all critical intelligence every morning. He is an experienced consumer of intelligence, which is an excellent qualification for the position.