The Gang That Couldn’t Appoint Straight

During the presidential election campaign, even Barack Obama’s most severe detractors conceded that he was smart, politically savvy, and had put together a team of brilliant advisors and managers.

Everyone expected that President Obama would carry the cool professionalism and political acumen of his campaign into his administration.

What the hell happened?

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Since the election, the Obama team has become The Gang That Couldn’t Appoint Straight.

Today, both his nominee for Secretary of Health and Human Services (Tom Daschle) and his nominee for Chief Performance Officer (Nancy Killefer) were forced to withdraw their nominations because of tax problems (or worse).  Last week, Obama’s nominee for Treasury Secretary (Timony Geithner) was approved by the Senate only after offering a mea culpa for his own tax issues.  And Obama’s first nominee for Commerce Secretary (Bill Richardson) was forced to withdraw his nomination when it became known that he is under federal grand jury investigation into improper pay-to-play business dealings (or worse).

Who is to blame for this mess?

As the executive director of Obama’s transition team, Obama’s Harvard Law classmate Chris Lu bears much of the responsibility, as does transition team co-director John D. Podesta and personal director Jim Messina (now Deputy White House Chief of Staff), as well as White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, Senior Advisor (and formerly chief campaign strategist) David Alexrod, and Staff Secretary Lisa Brown.

Along with the White House’s expressions of “regret” and “disappointment,” someone (probably from the group named above) should step forward and admit that they had the responsibility to vet these nominees and that they’ve (repeatedly) blown it.

Much of Obama’s post-election popularity – and his political capital – rests on the belief that we finally have a president who is smart enough, engaged enough, and politically savvy enough to navigate the ship of state through the very dark and troubled waters ahead.

With a series of highly publicised botched appointments to several of the most crucial cabinet positions, Obama risks undermining that belief and squandering his political capital before it is even spent.

My concern is not so much with the nominees themselves (and I’m not sure where I come down regarding the seriousness or deeper implications of their tax and other problems), but with the lack of competence and completeness in their vetting by the Obama team.

The danger is that the public will reverse its perception of Obama as having his (and our) act together. That would be very bad for Obama, for Democrats, and for the country.

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2 responses to “The Gang That Couldn’t Appoint Straight

  1. I suppose the question is whether 1) these nominees were not properly vetted, or 2) they were insufficiently candid during the vetting process.

    Is it possible that whoever was supposed to vet (for example) Bill Richardson more or less waved him through the checkpoint, so to speak? Did they think, “this guy was a presidential candidate, he knows how the game is played, if he has any dirt on himself he’s going to volunteer it to me before he lets himself become a liability down the line, etc”…?

    Now that I’ve spun all that out, #2 seems more likely. If that’s indeed the case, and it’s mainly just simple hubris, then are the nominees themselves to blame as opposed to the Administration?

  2. That’s not true in Richardson’s case. The investigation that wound up prompting his withdrawal had been widely reported and was no secret. Apparently, everyone had hoped it would all be over in time for confirmation hearings, and it’s not. The Governor is looking pretty good here in comparison for not putting the Obama people through the wringer.

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