There is no better example of the triumph of political hacks in the second term of the Obama presidency than this: White House deputy press secretary and former Obama campaign spokeswoman Jen Psaki is replacing foreign service professional Victoria Nuland as State Department press secretary.
Nuland was center stage in a number of recent flaps, including Benghazi, but was professional throughout and never willing to lie or mislead. (Evasion and refusal to answer are different matters and accepted in the rough and tumble of managing the competing claims of the press and one’s superiors.) Now, someone with no professional diplomatic experience and entirely loyal to the White House will take to the podium at Foggy Bottom to control the information flow in an administration endemically and at times deliberately misleading. Heaven help the State Department press corps.
But the triumph of the hacks is not limited to State. Chuck Hagel, whose primary qualification is his ability to attach himself to every bit of false Beltway thinking and parrot back the president’s misguided views, is supposed to lead the Pentagon during a dangerous and complicated period? He can’t remember his own talking points without Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) to prompt him. At Treasury we may get someone whose financial expertise consists of being wildly overpaid by Citigroup, who misled the Senate on the budget and who made Cayman investments fashionable for Democrats.
This is more than simply second-term fatigue. This is President Obama and his longtime confidante Valerie Jarrett stocking important posts with political supplicants. You would think we faced no international threats or economic minefields. But Obama is not an unobservant man; he certainly knows who is an independent thinker and seasoned professional and who is not. He chooses the latter because his objectives are now entirely political.
Obama’s highest priority is to have loyal people who will follow the White House’s tact of partisan attacks, blame shifting and information control. In his world the most immediate threats are in the Republican House, not in Tehran or the markets.
He may imagine these posts are inconsequential because he’s got a handle on it all. (His record suggests such arrogance is misplaced.) But in doing so he not only puts the country at risk but also makes fools and prevaricators of his allies. Poor Levin (D-Mich.) is supposed to have as his legacy confirmation of the most inept and dim secretary of defense in history. Pundits and advocates are revealed to be fools, shilling for a political stooge and pretending not to notice how embarrassingly deficient is the object of their boosterism.
The “dumb” party is not the GOP but the Obama-Hagel party of yes men. Let us hope we face no crises in the next four years; if we do the country will have few competent leaders in critical posts to respond.