Commentary Magazine


Topic: Paul O’Neill

Making the Wish List

Tim Cavanaugh (h/t Glenn Reynolds) writes:

I don’t understand the Washington cant that says [Larry] Summers, Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner and other manifest failures can’t be fired. Ronald Reagan, father of the debtorship society, fired six department heads in his first term, and made a point of first humiliating and then firing his deficit-hawk OMB director David Stockman. George W. Bush fired Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill on his way to winning re-election.

This is not only brilliant advice for the economic team, but it is worth considering on a broader basis. Multiple firings would serve many aims. First, they keep the media off of their new favorite storyline — namely, “Is this really the guy we went into the tank for?” Second, it cuts against the image of the president as the wimp in chief. Third, many people deserve to be fired — not just the obvious loonies and incompetents such as Van Jones and the fellow responsible for panicking New Yorkers with the Air Force One flyover. Fourth, Obama loves to play the “look ma, no hands game” so firing staff who “didn’t perform” maintains Obama’s aura as someone who really, honestly is the smartest, wisest president ever. He just had bad staff, you see.

So who’s on the list? Well, Joe Biden can’t be fired until 2012. Besides, he’s useful for reminding the country that we could be in worse hands. The obvious candidates: Hillary Clinton, George Mitchell, and James Jones. If there has been a worse trio of foreign-policy advisers who’ve made hash of just about everything they’ve touched I’d be hard pressed to name it. Their removal would be a big step toward “restoring our standing” in the world. (That’s what we were promised, you recall.) Think of it as a mega reset.

And then there are David Axelrod and Rahm Emanuel. After all, they’ve been running everything — from the Afghanistan war seminars, to Middle East strategy, to the stimulus and health care. Indeed, their fingerprints are all over many of the administration’s worst calls. Moreover, firing them would help dispel one of those “bad” storylines that John Harris pointed out:

The rap is that his West Wing is dominated by brass-knuckled pols. It does not help that many West Wing aides seem to relish an image of themselves as shrewd, brass-knuckled political types. In a Washington Post story this month, White House deputy chief of staff Jim Messina, referring to most of Obama’s team, said, “We are all campaign hacks.” The problem is that many voters took Obama seriously in 2008 when he talked about wanting to create a more reasoned, non-partisan style of governance in Washington.

And finally there is Eric Holder, who has been front and center in some of the worst decisions of the administration — the ill-conceived and unresearched decision to close Guantanamo, the release of interrogation memos, the reinvestigation of CIA operatives, the now-reversed decision to release detainee-abuse photos, and the civilian trial of KSM (topped off by an Alberto Gonzales-like appearance before the Senate Judiciary Committee). But I’m thinking it’s best to wait on that one. They’ll need a moment when the KSM trial is spinning out of control and Senate races in New York and Illinois are still winnable to announce that, by gosh, this handling of KSM is a mess and Holder is taking full responsibility on the way out the door.

Okay, it’s a lot of people to can. But it’s been a lousy first year.

Tim Cavanaugh (h/t Glenn Reynolds) writes:

I don’t understand the Washington cant that says [Larry] Summers, Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner and other manifest failures can’t be fired. Ronald Reagan, father of the debtorship society, fired six department heads in his first term, and made a point of first humiliating and then firing his deficit-hawk OMB director David Stockman. George W. Bush fired Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill on his way to winning re-election.

This is not only brilliant advice for the economic team, but it is worth considering on a broader basis. Multiple firings would serve many aims. First, they keep the media off of their new favorite storyline — namely, “Is this really the guy we went into the tank for?” Second, it cuts against the image of the president as the wimp in chief. Third, many people deserve to be fired — not just the obvious loonies and incompetents such as Van Jones and the fellow responsible for panicking New Yorkers with the Air Force One flyover. Fourth, Obama loves to play the “look ma, no hands game” so firing staff who “didn’t perform” maintains Obama’s aura as someone who really, honestly is the smartest, wisest president ever. He just had bad staff, you see.

So who’s on the list? Well, Joe Biden can’t be fired until 2012. Besides, he’s useful for reminding the country that we could be in worse hands. The obvious candidates: Hillary Clinton, George Mitchell, and James Jones. If there has been a worse trio of foreign-policy advisers who’ve made hash of just about everything they’ve touched I’d be hard pressed to name it. Their removal would be a big step toward “restoring our standing” in the world. (That’s what we were promised, you recall.) Think of it as a mega reset.

And then there are David Axelrod and Rahm Emanuel. After all, they’ve been running everything — from the Afghanistan war seminars, to Middle East strategy, to the stimulus and health care. Indeed, their fingerprints are all over many of the administration’s worst calls. Moreover, firing them would help dispel one of those “bad” storylines that John Harris pointed out:

The rap is that his West Wing is dominated by brass-knuckled pols. It does not help that many West Wing aides seem to relish an image of themselves as shrewd, brass-knuckled political types. In a Washington Post story this month, White House deputy chief of staff Jim Messina, referring to most of Obama’s team, said, “We are all campaign hacks.” The problem is that many voters took Obama seriously in 2008 when he talked about wanting to create a more reasoned, non-partisan style of governance in Washington.

And finally there is Eric Holder, who has been front and center in some of the worst decisions of the administration — the ill-conceived and unresearched decision to close Guantanamo, the release of interrogation memos, the reinvestigation of CIA operatives, the now-reversed decision to release detainee-abuse photos, and the civilian trial of KSM (topped off by an Alberto Gonzales-like appearance before the Senate Judiciary Committee). But I’m thinking it’s best to wait on that one. They’ll need a moment when the KSM trial is spinning out of control and Senate races in New York and Illinois are still winnable to announce that, by gosh, this handling of KSM is a mess and Holder is taking full responsibility on the way out the door.

Okay, it’s a lot of people to can. But it’s been a lousy first year.

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