The Neera Tanden controversy reveals bipartisan corrupt politics

I have already discussed the awful record of Neera Tanden who has been nominated by Joe Biden to the powerful position of the head of the Office of Management and Budget. There are signs that her nomination is in trouble. But instead of focusing on that record, criticisms of her have centered on her late-night rage tweeting, resulting in her now trying to walk away from them saying, “My language and my expressions on social media caused hurt to people, and I feel badly about that. And I really regret it and I recognize that it’s really important for me to demonstrate that I can work with others… I would say social media does lead to too many personal comments and my approach will be radically different.”

Really? She only now realized the toxic effects of social media? Tanden did not say these things as an impulsive adolescent who has since matured and learned better. She made those vicious attacks on people as part of advancing her reactionary agenda and fully conscious of what she was doing, and is only sorry for them because they might jeopardize her nomination to an important post. Her apology is utterly disingenuous. Norman Solomon writes how the media and some left-leaning Democratic-supporting groups such as MoveOn are turning a blind eye to her faults and urging support for her.

David Sirota writes that this episode reveals a lot about the corrupt bipartisan culture.

[H]er particular record would raise significant red flags as a job applicant for even a mid-level management position in any organization, much less the White House: during her tenure running the Center for American Progress, she reportedly outed a sexual harassment victim and physically assaulted an employee. While she was running the organization, CAP raked in corporate and foreign government cash and a report was revised in a way that helped a billionaire donor avoid scrutiny of his bigoted policing policy. Critics allege that Tanden busted a union of journalists. And she floated social security cuts when Democrats in Congress were trying to stop them.

Even if you discount Tanden’s infamous statement about Libya and oil, as well as her vicious crusade against Senator Bernie Sanders and the progressive base of the Democratic party, all of these other items would seem to disqualify Tanden for a job atop a Democratic administration that claims to respect expertise and want to protect women, workers’ rights, social programs and government ethics.

The motives here are unstated but obvious: nobody in either party or in the Washington media wants to center Tanden’s nomination on her actual record, because if that record becomes disqualifying for career advancement in Washington, it could set a precedent jeopardizing the personal career prospects of every creature slithering through the Washington swamp.

Indeed, if corruption, mismanagement, bullying, union busting and let-them-eat-cake-style austerity ideology are suddenly perceived negatively, then all the real-life Veep characters in Washington – the politicians, operatives and media elites who’ve spent their whole lives angling for fancy White House titles – could be out of luck.

Appreciating the power of this tribal motivation is crucial, because it accounts for why Democrats seem to be spending as much or more political capital on trying to rescue Tanden’s nomination than on enacting policies to rescue Americans from an economic disaster. That’s no overstatement: the White House has signaled it is working the phones and pulling out all the stops for the OMB nominee at the very same time the administration is signaling a potential pre-emptive retreat on the minimum wage and a willingness to limit promised survival checks.

Such skewed priorities and misguided decisions might seem inexplicable to those future anthropologists looking back at this moment. However, it will all make perfect sense to them if they understand that the Tanden affair exemplifies how in this era of end-stage democracy, the first and foremost priority of the effete political elite wasn’t helping millions of people, it wasn’t defending the progressive agenda, and it wasn’t even ensuring electoral success.

It was something deeper, more tribal, and more corrupt: swamp self-preservation.

I think Sirota has got it exactly right.


  1. mnb0 says

    Still you’re going to vote for JoeB (or another right wing Democrat) hence NeeraT (or someone similar) in 2024 and maintain a political system that inevitably produces such nominations and appointments. This is why I’ve difficulties to take your complaining seriously.

  2. sonofrojblake says

    swamp self-preservation

    It’s almost as though the Democrats learned nothing from the result of the 2016 election…

  3. Who Cares says

    @mnbo(#1): They don’t have the luxury of the Dutch form of elections for a government. The whole system, as exists on the federal level in the US, only allows two parties, you want a new party to participate at that level then one of the two existing ones needs to collapse. The system is also rigged so that you get to chose from candidate 1 to X who are approved by the people financing the parties (Trump was an aberration in that the voters, thanks to infighting among the approved candidates, managed to stage a successful revolt against the system) so the only people you’d take serious would be the people who don’t vote instead of the people who decide to use their vote to get the lesser evil elected.

  4. Steve Cameron says

    This is the kind of behavior that causes Democrats to lose elections, and which will doubtlessly lose them the House & Senate in 2022. It’s quite a comment on the state of American democracy that’s it’s only Republican hypocrisy that has a chance to keep Democrat hypocrisy in check. But the GOP are so practiced at this that they’ve already put the Dems in a position to engineer their own defeat in the mid-terms. Biden presumably won’t mind either way — the mere act of defeating Trump has already cemented his legacy, so if the Republicans obstruct his “big” election promises the only tears he’ll shed will be crocodile tears. Who cares if it leads to another Trump? The elites will do fine, and that’s all that matters. USA! USA!

  5. bmiller says

    Who Cares: What I don’t understand is why people went for a “rebel” who was WORSE than the corrupt norm? In almost every way. Well…I do understand, but I don’t want to

  6. Sam N says

    @1, what do you suggest we do so critical one? I didn’t vote this last election, did vote for Bernie sanders in the democratic primary. But was rather incapacitated in November.

    Still, please let us know how we can alter shitty US politics because you’re obviously smarter than us.

  7. Sam N says

    There’s an interesting thing that happens in journal clubs.

    The young’ens don’t speak much. The folks starting to learn make competent criticisms. The folks who’ve been around more than a few years and still attend these things lean in, simplistically, two directions.

    Some encourage criticism regardless, others ask what were the difficulties faced? Why didn’t the researchers do the ‘optimal’ experiment? The implicit question is why wasn’t the optimal experiment possible? Sometimes it’s limitations of the experimenters skill or imagination, but often it’s a full understanding of technical limitations, how funding travel, and what was even possible for a reasonable and competent science to perform.

    Some of us are just bad, disingenuous cheats. Some of us would like to do more, but can’t. We aren’t given any funding.

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