As recently as last January, Barack Obama reiterated his love of the Reagan zombie, when Time described a dinner Obama shared with a group of presidential historians: “And yet Obama was clearly impressed by the way Reagan had transformed Americans’ attitude about government.” If Obama really wants to emulate Reagan, I have a suggestion for how he could copy Reagan’s pioneering moves when Reagan appointed individuals with attitudes diametrically opposed to the mission of their agency and in line with Reagan’s radically conservative agenda. With Robert Gates’ impending departure there is soon to be an opening for Secretary of Defense. With some bandying Leon Panetta’s name for SecDef, that leaves a potential opening for DCI. I have Reaganesque suggestions for Obama: appoint Dennis Kucinich,who has been a big advocate for a Department of Peace, as Secretary of Defense and Daniel Ellsberg, who released the Pentagon Papers, as Director of Central Intelligence.
Perhaps the best-remembered of Reagan’s appointees who were put into positions where they could do significant harm to programs Reagan hated was James G. Watt, Reagan’s first Secretary of the Interior. In an article written near the end of Watt’s rocky tenure, Time noted that Watt was an early advocate for drilling in the Gulf and other near-shore areas:
Even if Watt should defy the odds—and the Senate—and hold on, his ability to put his policies into effect seems at an end. Two weeks ago, for example, Senate-House conferees approved a bill to ban underwater oil drilling on key areas of the continental shelf that Watt wants to open for leasing.
Of course, Watt shared the blatant racism that was a part of Reagan (who kicked off his campaign in Philadelphia, Mississippi with a reference to “states’ rights”), and the Time article describes the utterance that cost Watt his job, along with his moves to open sensitive lands to commercial exploitation:
Ever since his flippant remark three weeks ago about the presence of “a black, a woman, two Jews and a cripple” (see ESSAY) on his coal-leasing commission, Watt’s chances of staying in office have ebbed almost daily. The Secretary long ago alienated the left and center with his policy of opening vast tracts of Government-owned land to commercial exploitation. Now the Republican right fears that he will be a 1984 campaign liability to G.O.P candidates.
Well, actually Time cut the quote short. It is even more disgusting when we see a longer version:
“I have a black, a woman, two Jews and a cripple. And we have talent.”
Why not take that Reagan spirit that Obama so longs to capture and put it to good work for a liberal cause? If Obama really shares “virtually no priorities” with Reagan as the January Time article claims, he could honor Reagan by appointing a Secretary of Defense whose chief desire would be to transform the former “War Department” into a Department of Peace:
Congressman Kucinich is a strong advocate for peace, in the individual and social spheres, and in national and foreign policy. He believes that our government must develop a new broad-based approach to peaceful, non-violent conflict resolution, both domestically and abroad. He supports a government that will hold non-violence as an organizing principle in our society, and help to create the conditions for a more peaceful world.
If James Watt was able transform the Department of the Interior from a conservation operation into one that openly auctions off resources, shouldn’t Obama bring balance to the world by nominating Dennis Kucinich to introduce the concept of nonviolent conflict resolution to the Defense Department?
In a similar vein, why not nominate Daniel Ellsberg, who famously released the Pentagon Papers which are widely credited with helping to turn sentiment against the war in Vietnam, to run the Central Intelligence Agency? Even now, only about a week away from turning 80, Ellsberg’s work on behalf of Bradley Manning continues his advocacy for release of classified information when it serves to document war crimes or other atrocities.
Of course, Obama would never make these nominations. The chief reason that he wouldn’t do so is that Time has it entirely wrong when they state that Obama shares “virtually no priorities” with Reagan. As far as I can see, Obama’s priorities are identical to Reagan’s with the blatant racism stripped away. You can bet that Obama will appoint a SecDef who shares Obama’s love of war and any new DCI will share Obama’s radical position on prosecution of whistle-blowers, two positions indistinguishable from those of Reagan.