The Senate Armed Services Committee’s postponement of a vote on the nomination of Colin Kahl for undersecretary of Defense for policy is a reminder that no good comes from tweeting. Like other Biden appointees, Kahl supports returning to the Iran nuclear deal that he worked on during the Obama administration. An Iran dove, Kahl prefers to unleash fire and fury — on Twitter, anyway — on conservatives and pro-Israel hawks. His popular Twitter feed is filled with ad hominem attacks on the very Republican senators who might decide his fate. Or at least it was filled with such invective, until he realized the angry tweets hurt his job prospects. Now he just retweets Biden.
Kahl’s story is reminiscent of Neera Tanden’s. A lot of people in Washington scratched their heads last year when Biden nominated the president and CEO of the Center for American Progress to direct the Office of Management and Budget. Not because Tanden was unqualified, but because she, too, had a long Twitter trail of sarcasm and personal slights directed at members of the U.S. Senate, including some of her fellow Democrats. After weeks of controversy, Joe Manchin, Mitt Romney, and Susan Collins decided Tanden’s Twitter persona was disqualifying. Biden pulled her nomination.
Tanden’s supporters accused Republicans of hypocrisy. After all, they support Donald Trump, whose tweets were far worse than anything that had been fired from her iPhone. But this comparison was inapt: If the Senate chose our president, I suspect Trump wouldn’t have made it, either. In the end, Trump also paid a price for his Twitter habit, as you may have noticed.
Nor was Tanden a victim of sexism. The Twitter standard applies to both genders, and to both parties. Many were the Republicans whose past tweets ruined a chance to join the Trump administration. Last year, the Republican Senate couldn’t muster the votes to confirm retired general Anthony Tata for the job Colin Kahl hopes (or hoped) to fill. Off-the-wall tweets were to blame.
The medium of Twitter encourages immediacy, pithiness, snark, and insult. Reflection, nuance, subtlety, temperance — these are not qualities associated with the chirping blue bird. Tweets are so easy to send that you can share them without contemplating their full effects. Or their most important audience.
Last month, for example, Politico reported that a far-left foreign policy adviser to Bernie Sanders named Matt Duss was in line for a State Department job. Since the Washington Free Beacon publicized Duss’s online musings, however, no announcement has been made. Nor does Duss seem overly concerned about his Twitter feed: When Biden struck Iranian positions in Syria in response to an assault on our forces in Iraq, Duss tweeted that the action was illegal. Not the best way to impress the boss.
No one who’s ever experienced it can deny the sensation of excitement one experiences when a tweet racks up retweets and likes. But the pleasure is fleeting, and ultimately meaningless. Twitter is not real life, but it can ruin real lives. If you are a college student or young professional who hopes one day to work for a president, let the sagas of Kahl, Tanden, and Duss be cautionary tales. Don’t take any chances. Delete your account.