Would Republicans Block Lincoln, Jesus, and Jefferson if Obama Wanted Them in His Cabinet?
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The twin spectacles of Republican lawmakers opposing one of their own for defense secretary and the conservative media slamming that nominee, Chuck Hagel, as a leftist, raises a thought-provoking question: What Obama nominee wouldn’t the GOP oppose?
To get at the extremism that is exposed by such a question, let’s broaden the scope of possible nominees. Imagine that, in the basement of the White House, President Obama had a machine that could let him travel to any time or dimension to recruit for his top positions in his administration. Then ask yourself: Would Republicans still oppose those all-star picks, even icons of their own party? The answers seem pretty clear:
11. Abraham Lincoln, R-Ill.
Billed as the founder of the modern Republican Party and yet also the political hero of Democratic President Obama, Lincoln seems at first glance to be a perfect consensus pick for any number of Cabinet slots in the Obama White House — especially because he would get a boost from the Beltway’s all-powerful neoconservative think tanks that admire his record of suspending habeas corpus for accused enemies of the state.
However, a fierce lobbying campaign by financial interests, budget hawks and Southern GOP lawmakers would imperil his nomination from the get-go.
Bank lobbyists, for instance, would leak a series of stories about quotes attributed to Lincoln showing what they would depict as a dangerously radical streak in his economic politics. These include a letter in which he is ( inaccurately) said to have denounced the fact that “all wealth is aggregated in a few hands”; another letter in which he is alleged to have called bankers one of his two biggest enemies; and a speech in which historian Merill Peterson claims Lincoln had a “color of Marxism” in his thinking and ultimately became “the best friend labor ever had in the White House.”
Republican budget cutters, meanwhile, would cite Lincoln’s wartime spending on his era’s version of stimulus — railroad infrastructure, science research, land grant colleges — to assert that he cannot be trusted to control the debt. And, of course, Republicans representing Confederate states along with ideologically aligned Libertarians would accuse Lincoln of disrespecting state sovereignty and pushing an unfunded federal mandate when he issued his Emancipation Proclamation.
10. Thomas Jefferson, D-Va.
The father of the Democratic Party, Jefferson’s professed love of the common man and his Louisiana Purchase success in ripping off France could certainly give his Cabinet nomination an initial political boost with Republicans. That said, his nomination would be quickly doomed the moment GOP activist groups leaked this Jefferson quote to the press:
“I hope we shall crush in its birth the aristocracy of our moneyed corporations, which dare already to challenge our government to a trial of strength and bid defiance to the laws of our country.”
This would likely prompt a scathing Wall Street Journal editorial, and much hand-wringing from Wall Street-connected Democrats, ultimately resulting in calls for Jefferson to withdraw his nomination.
9. Barry Goldwater, R-Ariz.
Long credited with being the ideological inspiration of modern conservatism, former Arizona Sen. Barry Goldwater would have much trouble negotiating a successful Cabinet nomination with today’s Senate Republican Conference thanks to both his positions on GOP hot-button issues like gay marriage and abortion, and his late-in-life move to defend Democrats.
As the Washington Post reported in a 1994 article headlined “Barry Goldwater’s Left Turn,” the Arizona firebrand became “a gay rights activist” by “championing homosexuals serving in the military … work(ing) locally to stop businesses in Phoenix from hiring on the basis of sexual orientation (and) sign(ing) on as honorary co-chairman of a drive to pass a federal law preventing job discrimination against homosexuals.”