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Tuesday, December 11 , 2018, 2:38 am | Fair 44º


David Harsanyi: What’s the Big Deal? Plenty

There has always been cronyism, but White House's job-for-dropout efforts went too far

For all of you anticipating an investigation into the Obama administration’s thriving jobs-for-dropouts program by the most ethical Congress in history, stop dreaming.

David Harsanyi
David Harsanyi

But let’s pose broader questions regarding the Andrew Romanoff and Joe Sestak affairs: Why is it illegal to offer a position for a favor in the first place? What’s the big deal? Happens all the time. After all, it’s not as if our vast government bureaucracies employ a strict merit-driven hiring process.

If they did, would Ken Salazar be deemed the most capable person in the nation to lead the Department of the Interior? Solar-powered platitudes, empty threats and a cowboy hat can get you so far. What could possibly be the reason for a union lackey like Hilda Solis running the Department of Labor? Labor in this case means actual jobs, right?

And sadly, I have more business managing the Transportation Department than Ray LaHood, who believes cars are immoral, planes are unsafe and bicycles hold the key to solving the nation’s congestion.

So we always have cronyism, patronage jobs and politics-in-lieu-of-experience jobs, but they come with some level of transparency: department heads vetted, executive branch nominating, voters with a clear idea of whom to blame.

It is not the same as proactively undermining the democratic process by trading taxpayer-funded jobs so that the president’s agenda isn’t inconvenienced — as if it were some regal privilege.

Yet there was White House spokesman Robert Gibbs this week, breezily explaining, “The president ... has an interest in ensuring that supporters don’t run against each other in contested primaries.”

Well, why didn’t you say that in the first place?

If the president has an interest in ensuring supporters aren’t infighting because it inconveniences him, well, please feel free to offer up government positions to clear the field in Colorado, Pennsylvania and Whereverelse and alleviate this anxiety.

Gibbs earlier confessed potential illegality — perhaps inadvertently — when he stated that White House Deputy Chief of Staff Jim Messina “called and e-mailed Romanoff last September to see if he was still interested in a position at USAID or if, as had been reported, he was running for the U.S. Senate. ... Messina wanted to determine if it was possible to avoid a costly battle between two supporters.”

(“Avoid a costly battle,” says the administration that has increased the U.S. debt load threefold since it’s taken over to $5 billion per day and spent a reported $658 million during the 2008 presidential election.)

The statute seems pretty clear in stating that any job offer made “directly or indirectly ... to any person as consideration, favor or reward for any political activity” is an illegal act. (Who knows? An e-mail featuring a smorgasbord of job choices should a certain somebody drop out of a certain race might be considered an “indirect” offer.)

Does the administration get to choose which laws it follows?

And no, this is not a question of competence. It is true that Sestak is the highest-ranking former military officer serving in Congress and probably would make a perfectly capable secretary of the Navy. Romanoff, once Colorado House speaker, was a capable legislator — or at least as capable as the administration-anointed Michael Bennet. Which also makes both men serious and legitimate Senate candidates.

Perhaps it’s a reflection of the hubris of this administration — or perhaps of its false sense of moral dominance over the debate — that it will admit to illegality (at worst) or a clear unethical transaction (at the very best).

No, this isn’t Watergate or Bribegate, and maybe this happens all the time, but let’s not downplay how sleazy it is.

David Harsanyi is a columnist at The Denver Post and the author of Nanny State. Click here for more information, or click here to contact him.

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