Deroy Murdock weighed in Thursday on an absurd brouhaha regarding my friend Bob Eitel, a top lawyer currently filling a temporary spot at the Department of Education. I urge you to read his superb column and another one by Jennifer Rubin, both noting the sheer idiocy of the New York Times’ insinuations (in effect) that requesting official clearing from an Ethics Office is a sign of being unethical and that having experience in a field is proof that one is compromised by . . . well, maybe by having too much experience to be trusted. Or something like that. Keeping up with the changing standards for what qualifies as a disqualification is like keeping up with a mythical creature at summer camp called a “left-handed smoke shifter.”
(Eitel, the number-two lawyer at the Education Department in the G. W. Bush second term and the co-author of an influential legal white paper against Common Core cited approvingly by George Will, is on a “landing team” at the DoE, helping the new administration’s transition. He may or may not be up for a permanent appointment there, but the Left is saying that even his temporary appointment is suspect because he has represented for-profit universities as a lawyer — as if that is somehow a sin. Never mind that Eitel cleared every step with government ethics officials and went beyond what was required in terms of recusing himself from particular subject matters while helping the transition. Again, read those links above for full details.)
Because of my 35-year personal friendship with Eitel that is completely separate from political associations, I have hesitated to write about this contretemps except at my own little website that basically serves as a repository for my various writings. But now that Deroy has joined the fray with regard to our fellow Georgetown classmate, let me just add these points.
1) The Left’s oh-so-earnest concerns about ethics are always a one-way ratchet. Should the Obama-Holder Justice Department hire lawyers who went out of their way to fight for Guantanamo Bay’s enemy combatants and against the congressionally approved law governing their treatment, well, the Left has a conniption fit if conservatives question that obvious conflict. Likewise with the hundreds of Obama appointees, to all sorts of government agencies, whose prior experience was entirely for leftist interest groups opposing government policies. But let a Republican administration hire just about anybody who has ever worked for a for-profit corporation (oh, the horror!), and watch the Left yell that the appointee is hopelessly compromised.
2) Just as the New York Times did here in the “news” story in question, the establishment media loves citing “experts” from supposedly neutral “public interest groups” in order to make it appear as if they are merely doing straight reporting on the “questions” that impartial arbiters have about the suspect ethics of right-leaning public servants. Never do these news outlets mention that the board of these supposedly dispassionate arbiters consist almost entirely of people with backgrounds in liberal activism. So, to use Eitel’s example, the Times’ first paragraph conveniently identifies Eitel as having worked for “a company facing multiple government investigations,” also conveniently burying that Eitel’s job was to bring the investigated company into compliance with rules it allegedly went afoul of before Eitel’s arrival. And every other “fact” noted by the outside arbiters is couched in similarly tendentious terms, so that something called the “Project for Government Oversight” (POGO) can claim Eitel’s temporary job “raises considerable red flags.” So says a group whose board is chaired by a “Member Scholar” at the “Center for Progressive Reform,” and whose vice chair has spent decades representing “whistleblowers” against the usual leftist targets of the nuclear-energy, financial services, pharmaceutical and defense industries. But the Times calls POGO merely “a nonpartisan investigative group.” Un-huh.
3) The main point from both Murdock and Rubin bears repeating: If good, well-meaning, well-qualified people are hounded out of government service before they can ever even serve, then the American people will be relegated to government by second-raters. In this case, Bob Eitel’s past experience makes him eminently and obviously qualified to help a new administration learn the ropes, and the ginned-up (and rather weak) outcry against him is a stain on the character of those leading the outcry.