The Corner

Politics & Policy

But Trump!

Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden participates in the first presidential campaign debate with President Donald Trump in Cleveland, Ohio, September 29, 2020. (Brian Snyder/Reuters)

If you write anything critical about the incoming Biden administration, the usual ninnies on Twitter will respond, “Where were you when Trump did X?” — never mind if you criticized the Trump administration plenty of times.

Joe Biden promised that he and his transition team would “abide by the highest ethical standards, act solely in furtherance of the public interest, and base all policy and personnel decisions on merit, free from individual conflicts of interest.” (For now, let’s put aside the ongoing investigation into Hunter Biden for tax evasion, money laundering, and shady foreign associates.)

The post-Trump standard is being set, right now, by the decisions Joe Biden makes, and how Senate Democrats respond to those decisions.

Is it okay for the next secretary of defense to be a member of the board of directors of a major defense contractor such as Raytheon Technologies? Apparently so. And if there’s broad agreement on that, fine. Time in the private sector can show a future secretary of defense an aspect of assembling the arsenal of democracy that other jobs might not. But if Lloyd Austin gets confirmed, I don’t want to hear any further complaints about a figure with ties to a defense contractor running the Pentagon in a future Republican administration.

Is it okay for the next secretary of state to have founded a consulting firm that promises corporate clients a bridge from “the Situation Room to the Board Room” that refuses to disclose its clients? Because that’s what Tony Blinken did. If that’s acceptable, then fine, just keep in mind some future GOP secretary of state nominee may have similar connections, and be similarly disinclined to disclose his financial ties.

Is it okay for the White House chief of staff to have been a lobbyist for major corporations such as Time Warner, US Airways, the Coalition for Asbestos Resolution (a group of asbestos producers), Imclone Systems (a biopharmaceutical company), Imperial Bioresources, Fannie Mae, the Free Trade Lumber Council, Meade Instruments, FastShip, and DHL Holdings? If so, fine. Just recognize that some future Republican president may have a chief of staff with similar extensive and lucrative ties to corporate America, and there shouldn’t be any complaints about a potential conflict of interest if Democrats shrug at Klain’s old ties.

I’m fine with a strict standard that keeps corporate lobbyists and consultants from stepping into government jobs where they will influence or control federal policy, on the basis that a revolving door between the heights of the private sector and the heights of government represents a potential conflict of interest. And I’m fine with a loose standard that deems experience in the private sector useful and trusts government officials to recuse themselves from decisions where their past professional connections create a conflict of interest.

But I just want one standard, consistently applied, across all administrations. If it’s wrong for a Republican administration, it’s wrong for a Democratic administration. And if it’s ethically acceptable for a Democratic administration, it’s ethically acceptable for a GOP one, too. There’s no “the guys on my side have the right to make a good living” exception.

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