Tag Archives: Gail Collins

The Best Worst

Note: This is tomorrow’s blog. Accidentally posted early.

When I was growing up, there was a widespread assumption that you could judge people by the friends they chose. Did Johnny run around with a bad crowd? Was Susie attracted to “bad boys”? In political life, we had a similar shorthand: did the Mayor or Governor or President surround himself (back then, it was always a him) with quality people? Knowledgable, ethical people? If not, it was a bad sign.

Which brings me to Gail Collins’ recent contest. Collins asked her readers to vote for Trump’s worst cabinet member. As you might guess, the competition was fierce. She began with a warning:

No fair just yelling “Wilbur Ross!” Our secretary of commerce appeared to be trying to sweep the field last week when he expressed bafflement that federal workers were going to food banks during the government shutdown rather than taking out loans.

Collins described several other contenders: Kirstjen Nielsen generated false evidence to justify the president’s ugly immigration policies, oversees the execution of those policies, and consistently lies about them. She’s a strong contestant.

And she’s been pretty effective in carrying out her plans, which is important when you’re part of a crew where ineptitude often cancels out bad intentions.

For instance, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos would certainly like to privatize the nation’s public schools, but she barely seems organized enough to get dressed in the morning. Still, Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers, believes DeVos should get Worst points for having “basically spent her time in that office working for everyone but the kids.”

If I were voting, DeVos would definitely be a finalist.

Although Collins listed Rick Perry, Mr. “Oops” has managed to look positively benign next to most of the other cabinet members.

Some cabinet-watchers are discovering, to their shock, that they miss Scott Pruitt, who won last year’s competitionas the anti-environment head of the Environmental Protection Agency. Pruitt was famous for his public relations disasters. Remember security agentswho were sent to pick up his dry cleaning and drove him from one place to the next in a search for a special moisturizer?

Now we’ve got E.P.A. Acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler, a former coal industry lobbyist who’s way better at the job. Presuming you believe the job is screwing up the air and water.

Collins points out that a quarter of the cabinet are “acting”– she terms them “high-end governmental equivalent of temps.” It’s quite a list; it  includes the E.P.A., and the Departments of Defense, Justice and Interior.

People who care about land conservation were unnerved when the inept Ryan Zinke was replaced by Acting Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt, a former oil industry lobbyist. Can you imagine Bernhardt and Wheeler plotting together?

I don’t know where those “people who care about land conservation”–or clean air and water–are, but it’s pretty obvious none of them are serving in this Administration.

Collins acknowledges the challenge in picking a Worst Cabinet Member–as she says, there is so much competition.

Norman Ornstein, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, ticked off Pompeo, DeVos, Nielsen, Steve Mnuchin (“Certainly the slimiest Treasury secretary ever”) and Housing Secretary Ben Carson.

Let’s face it. The most apparent qualification for a cabinet position in this administration is a belief that the agency you are heading is illegitimate.

Pruitt and Wheeler both prioritize fossil fuel interests over pesky concerns about clean air or water; DeVos (recommended by Mike Pence–need I say more?) has an animus toward public education–both she and Pence want schools to “bring children to Jesus”–and her background included pretty much destroying Michigan’s public schools. Maybe Ben Carson was a good surgeon, but he has often expressed bias against “handouts” like affordable housing, also known as the mission of his agency.

It’s really hard to choose a “worst” from this assortment of incompetents and crooks, otherwise known as Trump’s “best people.”

My favorite description of this pathetic assemblage was posted by a Facebook friend, who said “I’ve seen better cabinets at IKEA.”

Experience Really Does Matter

When I grow up (like that will ever happen!), I want to be Gail Collins.

The witty New York Times columnist has an uncanny ability to hit political nails on their pointy little heads. Most recently, she considered the emergence of Presidential candidates like Carly Fiorina and Ben Carson, both of whom are touting their total lack of political experience as a reason to vote for them.

Virtually every elected president in American history — not counting the occasional military hero — made his way to the top by getting elected to other offices first. There are a couple of exceptions who just served in the cabinet, like Herbert Hoover. We can all look forward to hearing a candidate vow to return us to the golden days of the Hoover administration.

(Here in Indianapolis, we have some recent experience with a chief executive who knew nothing about politics or the governance of a city–or even what a city ought to look like– when he was elected. His steep learning curve has cost Indianapolis in numerous ways.)

When she was in business, I doubt that Fiorina would have hired a high-level executive who had no experience relevant to the position being filled, so one wonders why she thinks her own lack of experience somehow qualifies her for the presidency. (I won’t even raise the issue of her ignominious departure from Hewlett-Packard, after controversies which suggest she wasn’t all that successful in the private sector, either.)

I’ll leave the final word to the better wordsmith. As Collins wrote

People who run for president boasting that they aren’t politicians are frequently just trying to compensate for a lack of political skill. Carson (who presumably wants to run government like an operating room) is going to appeal to the folks who think the military is plotting to take over Texas, but otherwise, his only political gift seems to be for making outrageous statements. Fiorina ran for the Senate in 2010 and was beaten by Barbara Boxer, who was thought to be a vulnerable incumbent until Fiorina got hold of her, racking up a grand total of 42 percent of the vote.

On the plus side, Fiorina’s campaign produced one of the all-time great attack videos, in which her more moderate primary opponent was depicted as a Demon Sheep, portrayed by a man crawling across the grass with what looked like a wooly rug over his back and a piece of cardboard on his face. After that it was downhill all the way.

If you’re shopping for candidates with no experience in the business they want to lead, I’d say at least go for the one with the Demon. But really, there are smarter buys.