Many federal employes, these days, walk in fear of their jobs.
But not James G. Watt.
The secretary of the interior is proudly obnoxious. He has insulted environmentalists of both parties. He has defied Congress, ruffled traditionalists by appropriating the Robert E. Lee mansion, Arlington House, as his own, suggested that liberals are un-American.
He used to limit himself pretty much to an outrage of the month. But this week he did a double whammy. Hardly had the spray settled from his proposal for a billion acres of offshore oil drilling--it is illegal in two respects, according to critics--than he was revealed to have written an unconsionable letter to the Israeli ambassador which some Democrats say is unconstitutional.
More than that, he has given mouth-to-mouth resuscitation to Ronald Reagan's bete noire, Gov. Edmund G. (Jerry) Brown Jr. of California, whose campaign for the U.S. Senate was just barely breathing until Watt launched his assault on the surf of the Golden State.
Rep. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) has composed a congressional resolution calling on the president to "repudiate" Watt's letter. Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-N.Y.) and Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) are informing the president that all Americans should be free to express their views on energy or any other aspect of the nation's policy without fear of reprisal.
With his wonted crassness, Watt told Israeli Amabassador Moshe Arens, in writing, that liberal Jews better get with America's accelerated plans to tear up the environment in search of energy if they expect continued support for Israel.
As an example of lobbying, it was the grossest kind, because it suggested that American Jews put Israel's interests above America's. The idea that U.S. advocacy of Israel would not survive a return to gas lines is an ugly specter that has haunted the Jews since the Arab oil embargo of 1973-1974. Bringing it back during this period of strain over the Lebanese tragedy, while perhaps providing a not entirely unwelcome diversion from the anguished discussion of Israel's present course, only makes things worse. Moynihan called it "bare-knuckled bigotry."
The White House lamely responded that the letter was "unfortunate" but in no way reflects U.S. foreign or domestic policy.
"Secretary Watt's unofficial letter to Ambassador Arens represents his own personal views."
"Personal" is a word often used to cloak public indiscretions in the administration. When National Security Council staff member Richard Pipes said we would have to go to war with the Soviets if they did not change, when Defense Department official T. K. Jones said all we needed to survive a nuclear war was to dig a hole and cover it with a door, these were dismissed as "personal" and the perpetrators kept on.
Watt is ever so much safer. The Jewish community may be up in arms; the environmentalists beside themselves; the nation's swimmers in despair. But not to worry.
Watt's mania for privatizing public resources will not lead to his being "privatized" himself. To Reagan, he is a political resource.
The idea of leasing 1 billion acres of coastline pell-mell, without regard to laws requiring assent of the states affected and a decent interval for environmental assessment and consultation with the fishing and tourist interests, is in itself an outrage to many Americans. But is anybody blaming Ronald Reagan, who after all makes the policy? No, they are screaming for Jim Watt's bald head.
"Watt has raised Cain since Day 1," said a Republican political operative phlilosophically, "but he raises coin, too. And the right wing loves him."
Conservatives are pretty sore at Reagan for permitting such crimes against capitalism as assaulting the three-martini lunch. If he were to push Watt out the door, there might be no end to their apoplexy. As for the Democrats, they are ambivalent. If it were not for the damage to the environment, they would like him to stay on forever.
Rep. Morris K. Udall (D-Ariz.), the crown-prince of conservationists, regards Watt as one of his principal fund-raisers. Democrats are looking forward to having Watt to kick around in the fall campaigns.
Watt's plan to install oil rigs on every beach in the nation will not produce "energy independence," according to environmentalists. It will simply replenish the supplies from depleted onshore wells. Reagan flatly refuses to try conservation or solar alternatives. The pell-mell rush further insures that the oil companies will pay bargain-basement prices for the leases, with resultant loss to the taxpayers.
Watt goes grinning on talk shows. He bulldozes the wilderness and the parks. He bulldozes the sensibilities of many voters. A Democrat said that Watt is "a burden that the president can no longer carry."
Reagan could give the Boys' Town answer: "He's not heavy, he's my brother."