Thursday, January 10, 2013

Lew: mild-mannered pit bull. So what?

Recently, I talked about President Obama's choice for the office of Secretary of Defense, the always exciting former Senator, Chuck Hagel. I cited several pieces about that selection from people truly upset about it, people who think it's just a terrible--if not a dangerous--choice. Me, I think it's within Obama's purview to make the selection and I don't see anything about Hagel that should absolutely disqualify him from the job. If that's who Obama wants, then that's who he should get. But again, I don't see the appeal. Hagel just isn't special; he has no particular skill set that makes him a good choice, anymore than one that makes him a bad choice.

Hagel's a "blah" choice. And I would contrast this with Obama's initial and final choices to replace Clinton as Secretary of State: Susan Rice and John Kerry. Neither was a "blah" choice. The first was a bloody awful choice, because the Benghazi situation made it clear that Rice would not be up to the task. Running State requires something more than a simple yes-man. The latter--Kerry--was a fair choice. I may dislike Kerry's politics, but he's more than capable of filling the shoes being vacated by Clinton. And it's not like Obama was going to select a Bolton-type, anymore than he would select a Scalia-type to fill a seat on the SCOTUS.

For no matter what else, Obama is the current President of the United States. His preferences for filling various offices do matter. Those of us on the other side of the ideological spectrum must accept this reality. It's pointless to bitch and moan about--much less try to obstruct--nominations when they involve fully qualified candidates, just because those candidates are on the other team (or have been selected by the other team), so to speak.

So what about the latest unveiled "likely" nomination, Jacob (Jack) Lew as Secretary of Treasury? Jeff Sessions is literally having a cow over this:
Jack Lew must never be Secretary of Treasury. His testimony before the Senate Budget Committee less than two years ago was so outrageous and false that it alone disqualifies…

At this time of unprecedented slow growth, high unemployment, and huge deficits, we need a Secretary of Treasury that the American people, the Congress, and the world will know is up to the task of getting America on the path to prosperity not the path to decline. Jack Lew is not that man
"Must never be Secretary of Treasury." Harsh and unequivocal words. And why? Because according to Sessions, Lew--as director of the OMB--misled Congress and the American people in 2011 (February 13th on CNN, to be precise) with regard to the consequences of the Obama budget. What Lew said:
Our budget will get us, over the next several years, to the point where we can look the American people in the eye and say we're not adding to the debt anymore; we're spending money that we have each year, and then we can work on bringing down our national debt.
And a few days later--on February 15th, 2011--Obama repeated the same claim:
What my budget does is to put forward some tough choices, some significant spending cuts so that by the middle of this decade our annual spending will match our annual revenues. We will not be adding more to the national debt. It's -- so, to use a -- sort of, an analogy that families are familiar with, we're not going to be running up the credit card anymore.
Incidentally, during debt-ceiling fights pundits and politicos on the left tend to get bent out of shape when those on the right use credit-card analogies, but here we see Obama doing the exact same thing. Regardless, Politifact's "Truth-o-meter" examined the President and Lew's claim, rating it false. Empirical data since then has proven it to be false, as well. And the President's projected budget deficit for 2013--then $768 billion--looks to be in jeopardy already, with only one quarter of the year gone and an accumulated deficit of over $300 billion.

But all of that said, the President and his Administration were engaged in selling their plans. They were idealizing everything, something political leaders are wont to do. And they were rightfully called to the carpet for it. Does playing this kind of game disqualify Lew, as a matter of course? If it does, then some 90% of the House and Senate need to resign from their offices immediately, because they've all done the same.

Understand, I'm not defending Lew, just noting that what has Sessions so wound up is nothing all that unusual. And though Lew's statement was misleading, it was not the same sort of deception Rice was engaged in, at all. Lew is a serious guy. While his history is mostly that of a policy wonk with limited--though some--private sector experience, that history is replete with financial and budgetary experience.

And as an agent for the Administration, Lew is simply good at what he does. Some think he is uncompromising and obstinate, and that may be true. So was Rahm Emmanuel (Obama's former chief of staff). So was Mitch Daniels (one of George Bush's OMB directors). The latter, by the way, severely underestimated the cost of the war in Iraq.

Honestly, I'm not happy at all at the prospect of having Lew as the Secretary of Treasury, but then I'm also not happy about another four years of the Obama Administration. But to the victors do go the spoils. Lew is competent and as trustworthy as pretty much any other high-level bureaucrat in Washington, D.C. Opposing his nomination strikes me as a waste of time and a waste of political capital, though. The choice could be a lot worse.

Collectively, we can shake our heads in disgust as the appointment of another technocrat and bemoan the results of the 2012 elections. But there's not much else to be done for it, at the moment.

Cheers, all.

1 comment:

  1. I agree. Out of the whole bunch I would oppose only Brennan. Don't get me wrong, have Hagel raked over the hot coals throughout the nomination process, but let him be confirmed (I think it is also good for the people of US to know exactly what kind of people this president nominates). But Brennan... he is unqualified and plainly dangerous as a head of CIA. He is a man who doesn't understand plain and simple realities while he also thinks very highly of himself.