We’ve had some unusual Cabinet secretaries in past administrations - Earl Butz, John Mitchell and James G. Watt come to mind - but never anything quite like the present bunch.
Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner has overseen about $5 trillion in new debt. To help pay for it, he wants the rich - the top 1 percent already contributes more in income taxes than does the bottom 90 percent - to pay more for what he calls “the privilege of being an American.” Mr. Geithner, whose department oversees the Internal Revenue Service, should have taken his own advice: As a rich American 1 percenter, he once failed to pay his own self-employment taxes and improperly claimed his children’s camp costs as a dependent care deduction.
Secretary of the Interior Kenneth L. Salazar has pulled off the near impossible: At a time when the known gas and oil reserves of the United States on public lands have soared, he has cut back on federal leasing of them to just about 2 percent of available offshore lands and 6 percent of onshore. Meanwhile, huge new amounts of oil are found on private lands despite - not because of - the Interior Department. When he was a U.S. senator, Mr. Salazar claimed that even $10-a-gallon gas would not change his mind about not voting to increase offshore drilling. And although he controls the leases of the richest oil and gas reserves in the Western world, he recently shrugged that no one knew whether gas would hit $9 a gallon.
Then there is the even stranger case of Energy Secretary Steven Chu, whose department helped oversee hundreds of millions of dollars in bad loans to green companies including Solyndra, First Solar and Solar Trust of America - the Teapot Dome scandals of our times. Mr. Chu once infamously quipped before assuming office that he wanted U.S. gas prices to reach European levels. Apparently, Mr. Chu wanted to force less fossil-fuel burning - although he later confessed that he does not drive a car.
Mr. Chu also once warned that California’s Central Valley agriculture might disappear because of global warming. True, it could decline, but more likely because of the Obama administration’s decision to divert irrigation water in hopes of helping out the 3-inch San Francisco Delta smelt. Mr. Chu should realize that private-sector California farmers create thousands of jobs, while his own Cabinet’s Solyndra-like projects have done precisely the opposite.
Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. dropped charges against the New Black Panther Party for voter intimidation. That may explain why he said nothing when the same group put out a dead-or-alive bounty poster on George Zimmerman in the Trayvon Martin shooting case. Mr. Holder’s department is suing the state of Arizona for passing a law to enforce the largely unenforced federal immigration law. Mr. Holder suggested that the Arizona law was racially inspired even as he admitted that he had never read it. He has praised the race-baiting Rev. Al Sharpton for his “partnership” and called his countrymen “cowards” for not holding a national conversation on race on his terms. The attorney general has referred to blacks as “my people,” and he has characterized congressional oversight of his office’s failure to rein in the Fast and Furious gun-running scandal as racially motivated attacks on himself.
Labor Secretary Hilda Solis just tried - and failed - to draft a proposal prohibiting children under 18 from working “in the storing, marketing and transporting of farm product raw materials,” even on family farms. She also wanted to turn over some farm training programs run by the Future Farmers of America and the 4-H to the government. Most Americans raised on a farm think the times spent doing chores with their parents, siblings and neighbors were the most important and rewarding years of their lives.
Yet more worrisome, Mrs. Solis is selective in her enforcement. She envisions new rules for businesses, but she first should have ensured that her family had followed old ones. When Mrs. Solis was nominated, it was learned that her husband had several tax liens against his business, some of them 16 years old. And not long ago, her department posted a video advising illegal aliens to call her office if they felt they were treated unfairly by employers. Abusing workers is wrong, but so is illegally entering and residing in the United States - as a Cabinet official should know.
The common theme with these Cabinet secretaries is loud, uninformed rhetoric; a lack of practical experience; a certain utopian zealotry - and an expectation that there are rules for government grandees and quite different ones for the rest of us.
Victor Davis Hanson is a classicist and historian at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution.