The Tribal Politics Of Cass Sunstein

Keith Naughton Public Affairs Consultant
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It is difficult to figure out what American liberalism is these days. The only consistent thread I can determine is an overwhelming, unabashed hypocrisy. The latest example is a particularly odious opinion offered by former Obama administration regulatory director Cass Sunstein, where he takes former administration cabinet officers Robert Gates and Leon Panetta to task for the terrible crime of criticizing President Obama’s security and foreign policy.

The disturbing element is that such an opinion strikes at the very fundamental need for vigorous, informed debate in any free society. Sunstein’s opinion is unfortunately in line with the least transparent presidency ever, but it is anathema to the universal principles on which our country was founded. Not only that, it impairs our ability to develop good public policy.

Sunstein’s article starts off with a tantalizing premise; he compliments former President George W. Bush for his unwillingness to criticize his successor. Interesting stuff from a former Obama administration official. Calling it “honorable,” Sunstein lauds Bush for protecting the dignity of the presidency. But, this is only a cover for his real intent: to trash former Defense Secretary Gates and CIA Director Panetta for the temerity to take Obama to task for his many missteps and poor judgments with respect to our national security.

According to Sunstein, they owe the president an absolute undying loyalty for being permitted the “privilege” of serving under Obama. And loyalty means keeping your mouth shut. Strange, I always thought that those in public service should be loyal to the American people and our Constitution, not part of some freakish presidential personality cult.

(Let’s just set aside for the moment that Sunstein fails to disclose in the article that his wife, the profoundly incompetent Samantha Power, is the current UN Ambassador – a rather significant conflict of interest worth informing the reader about, don’t you think?)

Lumping Bush in with Gates and Panetta is a false equivalency worthy of Kremlin propagandists.  George W. Bush’s respectful silence is absolutely a laudable act by a former President.  Criticism by Bush would diminish himself, the Presidency and set a poor precedent.  At the same time, his views simply are not necessary.  The nation is and always will be full of critics whoever the President may be.  Bush has no particularly vital information to reveal about what his successor is doing.  Put bluntly, the critics of Obama don’t need George W. Bush’s help.

The opinions of Gates and Panetta, on the other hand, are vitally necessary. We are talking about national security, arguably the most vital function of the federal government. We aren’t talking about regulating how locomotives are painted.

If something is rotten within our national security apparatus and the president is ignoring it, then the public must know about it.

Furthermore, Gates and Panetta have exponentially more experience than Obama and his bumbling B-team in the White House. The analysis of respected, intelligent and patriotic individuals like Gates and Panetta is critical. If they see something wrong, it is their duty to the nation to speak out.

Importantly, both men did serve loyally during their tenure. Unlike the political hack-strewn White House, they were not yakking national security secrets to the New York Times. Both men were reportedly at their wit’s end over the irresponsible behavior of the gossipy White House security team.

For liberals like Sunstein, the commitment to democracy ends when the form becomes an impediment to their own ambitions and desire to engineer society to their liking – something they call “the public interest.” It never occurs to them that they might be wrong. Dissidents are to be silenced as their opinions are not worthy of debate and discussion.

The criticism by Gates and Panetta should and must be heard. They showed their patriotism and commitment to this nation by engaging in criticism. Keeping quiet would have been disloyalty. Perhaps if a more vigorous debate had occurred prior to the war in Iraq, its prosecution would have been less costly. Societies and nations invariably fail when debate and dissent are restricted.

Through his career Sunstein has assiduously promoted the persona of a deep thinker and liberal intellectual above the partisan fray. Now Sunstein finally drops the mask and exposes himself as just another footsoldier in the execrable tribal politics of the age of Obama.