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Political Animal

The Turnover

By Brian Morton | Posted 11/19/2008

It was a few weeks after the presidential election of 1992 when I emerged from the drafty escalators rising up from the Capitol South Metro station at First and C. Across the street was the GOP national headquarters, and right next to it was the Republican-friendly Capitol Hill Club. They probably weren't full of happy people, I guessed.

I was heading over to a nearby restaurant to meet up with a friend with whom I had worked on the presidential campaign, and together we were going to mull over our options on how best to try and land a job with the incoming Clinton administration we had helped elect. Coming toward me down First Street was a friend from college--at the time, one of the only Jewish Republicans I had ever known--who I had heard through the grapevine had been working as a "Schedule C" political appointee for Jack Kemp in George H.W. Bush's Department of Housing and Urban Development.

"If there's any sight that warms the heart, it's seeing a Republican who, in a few short weeks, will be on the unemployment rolls," I gibed. "How 'bout that social safety net?" He took my abuse gracefully and after wishing him well, we parted.

This is what I thought about when seeing the recent photos of Joe and Jill Biden meeting Dick and Lynne Cheney at the vice-presidential residence at the Naval Observatory. It's only been a month or so since Biden called Cheney "the most dangerous vice president we've had" during the vice-presidential debate, and yet there they stood, posing for cameras, before the foursome went inside, probably to discuss which heating grates didn't work and where to bang on the refrigerator to keep it from making that humming noise.

Presidential transitions are odd times any time there's a change of parties in power, but after the last eight years, this one may be even more so. One has to wonder if the motors have been burning out in the shredders in the veep suite in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building next to the White House, or if Cheney is simply planning on hauling out all the secret memoranda with him back to bury in the undisclosed location. There's got to be a lot of them, after all: the notes from the meetings with the energy lobbyists before the Enron debacle and the California electricity crisis, leftover unrevealed John Yoo torture memos, probably a few gratuitous Abu Ghraib photographs, probably some ashes left from when they were burning a copy of the Geneva Conventions.

In the 77 days between election and inauguration, all the records from the outgoing offices of the Executive Office of the President are packed up and shipped off either to the National Archives or the future presidential library, so that when the new administration walks in, all that remains are computers without hard drives and telephone directories without names in them. And all this occurs while there are soldiers overseas fighting in two wars and a financial crisis causing the stock market to act like some hungover tweaker twitching at the sound of Fourth of July firecrackers.

Meanwhile, the incoming Obama administration has to worry about Bush "moles" who may have "burrowed in," especially in places like the Justice Department. While it happens in every administration, burrowing in--where political appointees are illegally converted to career appointments where they can only be fired for cause--is quite likely to be a problem after former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales's aide Monica Goodling all but admitted to using political considerations in her hiring practices. Given how long Goodling was vetting for Justice, and how many regular career officials could have been driven out by the partisan cadre (especially in sensitive areas like the Office of Legal Counsel and the Civil Rights Division), the new administration could be seeing mammoth leaks to Fox News from Linda Tripp wannabes any time it tries to implement any new policies.

Finally, we should all start a betting pool on the outcry when all the Bush administration U.S. attorneys are told to hand in their resignations. Despite the fact that this happens every changeover, Rush Limbaugh and friends will need something to make hay about during the start of the new year. When the U.S. attorney scandal under Gonzales unfolded, the talk-radio set made a big deal out of Bill Clinton firing all the U.S. attorneys when he took over from Bush Sr. as a way to deflect from the odd spectacle of a president firing his own prosecutors in midstream. So don't be surprised if we start hearing about it again from the fever swamps.

This past week, the Government Printing Office released the newest version of "the Plum Book," the listing of all the political jobs available under the new administration. One of the best features it is that you can see the names and salaries of the outgoing people. This way, should there be someone you know, you can call them up and wish them well--and remind them to be thankful for that social safety net. I hear it may be tough going for a while.

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Political Animal archives

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The Fix (8/4/2010)

Police State (7/7/2010)

Funny Business (6/9/2010)

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