Personnel is policy, the saying goes. We know that in selecting Chuck Hagel, whose advice the president finds so valuable, we are headed, as Bill Burton said, for “huge” cuts in the military and a less pro-Israel national security policy. With the announcement that chief of staff Jack Lew will be nominated for Treasury secretary we know that the president (if you had any doubt) was going to seek confrontation, not cooperation, with Republicans.
Every GOP House and Senate office I spoke to yesterday had the same take on Lew. “Much worse than [Tim] Geithner,” said one. Another cited Bob Woodward’s book, “The Price of Politics,” arguing that Lew “was always the one to screw up any deals, pushed for the lefty position.”
Indeed, Woodward does document a number of Lew-induced blow-ups and made clear that progress was accomplished when he was not around. One example:
“Soon Boehner’s staff and Jack Lew got in a wrestling match over the Defense numbers. The White House wanted less Defense spending in those two years. … Too much Boehner decided. Not enough for national security, and the House Republicans would never accept such limits on Defense, though it probably only amounted to between $2 and $4 billion. He passed word to [Sen. Mitch] McConnell. It fell to [McConnell deputy chief of staff] Rohit Kumar to call Jack Lew. ‘This is —-!’ Lew said, exploding. ‘We’re not bending.’ [Obama staffer Rob] Nabors, who had known Lew for more than 15 years, had never seen his friend so exercised. ‘Jack just went nuts,’ Nabors said.”
Perhaps there was a good cop, bad cop routine, but in the second Obama term there are only bad cops.
It is not merely that President Obama has put up confrontational nominees. He is also replacing senior people with standing and reputations derived independent of his administration (e.g., Hillary Clinton, Leon Panetta, Tim Geithner) with confidants who are like-minded, disinclined to question the president or rebut his (often erroneous) thinking. It is the reign of the yes-men (a whole lot less women, as many have pointed out), dedicated to partisan sprawls. Like the president they are convinced that leftist policy is not only sound but morally superior.
In such an atmosphere the GOP would do well to recognize that the chance for big gains and major bipartisan initiatives is nil. Republicans need to pick their fights, define their positions and try to maintain unity. As Karl Rove remarks, “With control of just one chamber, Republicans won’t be able to advance much-needed structural changes in entitlements. That’s the cost of losing the 2012 election. A Republican wish list will have to await a GOP president and Congress. For now, Republicans must make Mr. Obama take ownership of his deficits and the debt (which has increased from $10.626 trillion the day he took office to $16.433 trillion on Wednesday). It’s impossible to negotiate with an ideologue, but Republicans can systematically unmask him and constrain him as much as their limited power allows, if they are united and acting in concert.” And from the president’s appointee we now know beyond any doubt that the ideologue in the Oval Office has absolutely no interest in moderation or compromise.