Friday, September 11, 2009

My one thought about Charles Freeman

I've received a bunch of e-mail queries asking me what I think of the Charles Freeman affair. One could argue that Freeman's actual policy positions got him into trouble. (When a letter to the Wall Street Journal on his behalf allows that "Chas has controversial political views, not all of which we share," it suggests that something is amiss). One could also argue pretty persuasively that the Israel Lobby flexed its muscle (as Freeman himself argues in his missive to FP's Laura Rozen).

In the wake of Freeman's withdrawal, I think everyone is vastly overestimating the influence of outside forces and underestimating the idiosyncracies of Freeman in trying to interpret what the hell happened. I don't mean his positions -- I mean his relative eagerness to get back into the game. Freeman's statements on the matter suggests that he was not all that eager to re-enter government life:

"As those who know me are well aware, I have greatly enjoyed life since retiring from government. Nothing was further from my mind than a return to public service. When Admiral Blair asked me to chair the NIC I responded that I understood he was “asking me to give my freedom of speech, my leisure, the greater part of my income, subject myself to the mental colonoscopy of a polygraph, and resume a daily commute to a job with long working hours and a daily ration of political abuse.” I added that I wondered “whether there wasn’t some sort of downside to this offer.”

"I wasn't so eager to go back to the government, anyway."

Sometimes these statements are boilerplate, but I don't get that sense from Freeman.

To put it another way -- if Hillary Clinton had been in the same situation as Freeman, there's no way in hell that she withdraws her name.

Steve Walt claims that, "this incident reinforces my suspicion that the Democratic Party is in fact a party of wimps." He's got a point, but I'm not sure it's the one he intended to make. Freeman is just one of a longer list of policy wonks -- Wendy Sherman, Caroline Atkinson, Robert Gallucci, etc. -- who have either declined or changed their minds about high-ranking postings. While none of these other names were targeted by the Israel Lobby, they all found the opportunity costs of entering goverment service too onerous.

Question to readers: Has the vetting process in DC become too absurd, or are Obama's subcabinet candidates too thin-skinned?

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