In 2008, Douglas Kmiec, a constitutional legal counsel for Pres. Ronald Reagan, endorsed then-senator Barack Obama for president. Rationalizing his decision on Slate’s blog, Convictions, Kmiec conceded that yes, he was pro-life, and yes, Obama wasn’t, but the senator’s mellifluous public pronouncements and personal writings had convinced Kmiec that Obama was “not closed to understanding opposing points of view and, as best as it [was] humanly possible, he [would] respect and accommodate them.”
Unfortunately the State Department was less accommodating.
Obama awarded Kmiec, an outspoken Catholic, the ambassadorship to 98-percent-Catholic Malta for his electoral support. Kmiec was pleased with the post, and he also understood the president to have given him a long leash to pursue interfaith dialogue while on the job.
Earlier this year, however, the Office of the Inspector General tried to slip a muzzle onto the garrulous ambassador. A report huffed that Kmiec, though popular with Maltese officials, had “devoted considerable time to writing articles for publication in the United States as well as in Malta, and to presenting his views on subjects outside the bilateral portfolio.” The ambassador’s wandering pen forced “Department principals, as well as some embassy staff, to spend an inordinate amount of time reviewing his writings, speeches, and other initiatives.” Recommendation Number One was to force the ambassador to “eliminate his use of embassy and Department resources on nonofficial writings.”
The Los Angeles Times’s Tim Rutten notes that this report wasn’t a cry in the wilderness:
Kmiec has been harassed by officials at State over his outside writing, even when it involves personal matters of faith. A memorial piece on his father’s death for the Jesuit magazine America, for example, was so severely edited that it misrepresented the dead man’s views. He was prevented from writing about Ronald Reagan for these pages, and he has been forbidden to speak or write the words “faith-based diplomacy.” He also was forced to cancel a prestigious international conference on interfaith cooperation that he had organized.
Shaken by the hoopla, Kmiec recently tendered his resignation to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and his “dear Mr. President.” In the letter to Clinton, Kmiec speculated that an opinion he wrote in 1989, when he led the Office of Legal Counsel, angered the inspector general’s office for insisting that Congress limit the office’s scope to “the rooting out of waste, fraud, and abuse, and not an evaluation of an agency’s substantive policies.” He suggested the the office, thirsting for vengeance, had issued a “sting-back.”
Nonetheless, Kmiec stressed in his letters that he felt no ill will toward Clinton and Obama. “With the highest respect for your leadership, and with some understanding of the difficulty and complexity of the challenges that you and Secretary Clinton face each day, I ask that you accept my resignation effective on the feast of the Assumption, 2011,” Kmiec wrote the president.
Coupled with the news of former ambassador to China Jon Huntsman’s fawning letters to Obama (a “remarkable leader”), Kmiec’s example could be seen as one of love spurned and chastened naiveté.