OK, the Obama administration -- with Sen. Judd Gregg withdrawing as Commerce secretary -- has now, officially, managed to create late-night TV style punchlines:
"Now we know what 'change you can believe in' really means -- one new Cabinet official per week."
"Obama has now had more ex-Cabinet nominees than Bill Clinton had ex-girlfriends."
"Sorry, Barack, he's just not that into you."
Gregg's cabinet forfeit makes it four withdrawals from an administration that hasn't even been around for a month.
The White House is in danger of developing a split personality -- a dichotomy, if you will -- not too dissimilar from that of Clinton's. That last Democratic White House, partly reflecting its leader, was -- after some early false starts -- efficient and successful in terms of policy, but a mess in terms of character and ongoing scandals.
With the stimulus package set to pass both the House and Senate in the next couple of days -- and be signed into law on Monday -- the Obama administration has been swift and brutally efficient on the policy side.
On the personnel side, however, it's bordering on chaos:
There are the big names: Gregg was the second of Obama's Commerce picks to drop out---the first, New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson was discovered to be under federal investigation before he could be confirmed. And tax-cheatin' Tom Daschle, the one-time-HHS secretary-designate was a former Senate majority leader, for goodness sake! And tax-tardy Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner who, though approved, kinda demonstrated in his bank bailout speeches why, maybe, the country would have been better off if he hadn't gotten the job.
There's the not-so-big names: Admittedly, not too many people had heard of Nancy Killefer before Obama selected her to be the "performance review" czar. But that's all the more reason to do serious due diligence on her. Instead, she withdraws for a reason (non-payment taxes by domestic help) that helped disqualify Cabinet picks in both the Clinton and George W. Bush administration.
And, there's the under-reported story in all of this: Gen. Anthony Zinni, former CENTCOM commander was -- as many media outlets reported -- told that he would be the Ambassador to Iraq. Several high-level members of the administration -- including Vice President Joe Biden told the general that he had the job. Then, suddenly, Zinni gets "radio silence." With no official communication, the next thing he knows is that Obama has picked veteran diplomat Christopher Hill.
Upon first hearing the Zinni story, one might think that the general just misread the signals. It wasn't quite the "done-deal" that he thought. But after this list of selections, withdrawals and obvious fumbles in the vetting process, one's got to think, "Hmm, Maybe Zinni was right. He got dissed in a major way."
So, what's next? Eventually, these sorts of administration "flaws" end up becoming potential "tragic flaws." Clinton character issues ended up in the Monica Lewinsky scandal. Bush "loyalty uber-alles" issue ended up with Katrina and other mishaps. Now, the question is: Where will the Obama "personnel-selection" flaw end up?
After a while, one can't just blame all this on the "vetting" process. Gregg is a perfect example of that. It wasn't anything in his background that caused him to drop out.. It was "irresolvable differences" over the stimulus package and who should run the 2010 Census (many black and Latino Obama supporters were also not pleased with the Gregg pick in the first place ). Geez, big-ticket items like that have to be hashed out before the appointment is publicly announced. If the president -- or his chief of staff -- can't convey to the nominee how things are going to be organized, that's on them. If the nominee begins to have second thoughts it's up to the president -- the President of the United States of America -- to allay their concerns and convince them that it can work.
Obama's inability to do that with Gregg is easily as troubling as any of the other personnel problems that have come up over the first month.
Robert A. George is a New York writer and stand-up comic. He blogs at Ragged Thots.