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."
Additionally, in conjunction with his libertarian principles, he became a vocal supporter of protecting a woman's right to choose, and, the Post notes, he applied "the full force of his cantankerous personality to frequent denunciations of the religious right and occasional defenses of Bill Clinton."
So while the famous Rachel Maddow-Rand Paul interview reminds us that today's GOP probably would have no problem with Goldwater refusing to support the 1964 Civil Rights Act (a move Goldwater later regretted), that same Republican Party would almost certainly have a problem with such an outspokenly pro-gay, pro-choice, anti-religious right Cabinet nominee from the Obama White House.
If there was a perfect résumé for a nominee to head the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), it has to be that of Santa Claus. As the head of an aid agency with global reach, he has solid firsthand experience managing production, logistics, transportation and distribution. This experience isn't just from an office suite, either -- he is the hands-on manager of a massive Elvish bureaucracy, personally pilots distribution runs every winter, and makes sure to give out aid based on the internationally recognized metrics of "naughty" and "nice."
Yet, if Santa was nominated to head USAID, Republicans would filibuster his appointment based on suspicions that he is communist. As proof, they would cite not just his red uniform, but also the fact that his company seems more interested in delivering sloth-inducing "free stuff" to the 47 percent of Americans who don't pay income tax than in motivating that 47 percent to start working for their own gifts. Additionally, the few GOP civil libertarians in Congress would raise objections to his distribution model's reliance on chimney-focused breaking and entering schemes.
7. Ronald Reagan, R-Calif.
Back in 2008, President Obama famously praised Reagan's political skills, so it is no stretch to think a resurrected Reagan would be an obvious candidate for an Obama nomination, either in a domestic or foreign policy position. The problem is that Reagan would be a target of GOP ideologues in both arenas.
If Reagan was nominated for a domestic position, his record backing moderate immigration policies and proudly championing union rights would make him a lightning rod among the GOP and conservative media voices. Even if Obama sought to put Reagan in a purely economic position like Treasury secretary, the Gipper's record raising taxes and pushing gun control would present serious GOP roadblocks for that nomination, what with Treasury's respective roles on fiscal policy and in overseeing the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.
Likewise, if Reagan was nominated for a military or foreign policy post, he would be accused by today's Republicans of "cutting and running" in the face of terrorists when he pulled U.S. troops out of Lebanon. Also, just as Republicans criticize Obama for being willing to negotiate with America's enemies, Reagan would be hammered by the GOP for similarly negotiating with our enemies back in the 1980s.
6. Gov. Mitt Romney, R-Mass.
credit: AP/David Goldman
Moderate Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney -- as distinct from ultraconservative presidential candidate Mitt Romney -- would easily fit into an Obama Cabinet, most likely at Treasury or Health and Human Services. But during confirmation hearings, that iteration would be labeled a business-hating menace by his party's own senators.
After all, on taxes, the governor's record was decidedly to the left of Obama's, as the New York Times reported on his "administration relentlessly scour(ing) the tax code for loopholes." Specifically, corporate tax loopholes. Yes, the crusade, reports the Times, "put him at odds with the values and expectations of the corporate world from which he came" -- and it ultimately "extract(ed) hundreds of millions of corporate dollars to help close budget gaps in a state with a struggling economy."
Similarly, Gov. Romney was the architect of what became the template for the Obama administration healthcare model. In confirmation hearings, then, Romney would be treated to the same insults that conservatives threw at Obama when they derided the president's healthcare legislation as a form of socialism or Nazism.
5. Dwight Eisenhower, R-Kan.
With impeccable military credentials thanks to his tenure leading the United States military through World War II, the good general would seem to most Americans to be a sterling pick for defense secretary. But then today's Republican lawmakers are not most Americans, and stopping Eisenhower's nomination would quickly become the central headline-grabbing cause of neoconservatives, defense industry lobbyists and Fox News' prime-time hosts.
That's because despite Eisenhower's seemingly unimpeachable record winning the most important military conflict in modern American history, his farewell address from his last governmental post would be portrayed by Republicans -- and in particular, those who have never served in the military -- as the ravings of a deranged left-wing peacenik whose pacificism would supposedly give aid and comfort to America's enemies. Thanks to Eisenhower's explicit criticism of the Military-Industrial Complex, the opposition campaign would be backed by the same defense industry interests who fear Hagel's nomination to the same post.
4. Defense Secretary Dick Cheney, R-Wyo.
credit: AP/Manuel Balce Ceneta
You might think that President Obama asking Dick Cheney to once again serve as defense secretary would be met with cheers by Republican senators -- and especially Cheney's fellow Republican chicken hawks. But the cheers would undoubtedly turn to jeers when they learned that Obama was using his time machine to nominate the specific iteration of Cheney who served as defense secretary under President George H.W. Bush.
That's because that version of Cheney would be considered a left-wing hippie by today's standards. He was the defense secretary who oversaw the last major push for huge cuts to the defense budget. He was also the defense secretary who took to national television to deride neoconservative critics who insisted that to invade Baghdad and fully occupy Iraq would mire the United States in an unwinnable "quagmire."
For such heresy, Republicans senators would treat Cheney as a dangerous Neville Chamberlain, all too willing to appease terrorists and endanger American national security.
3. Teddy Roosevelt, R-N.Y.
Many Republicans may publicly claim that TR is their hero, but those same lawmakers would view that same TR as a villain if Obama brought him to 2012 to head either the Interior Department or a domestic economy-focused agency. Indeed, the talking points against such a Roosevelt nomination are already available at the Heritage Foundation's website -- no joke.
If he was nominated to head Interior, the GOP would lambaste him as a radical environmentalist waging, as Heritage puts it, an "attack on property rights." That's because, as the National Park Service reports, "Roosevelt used his authority to protect wildlife and public lands by creating the U.S. Forest Service and establishing 51 Federal Bird Reservations, 4 National Game Preserves, 150 National Forests, 5 National Parks, and enabling the 1906 American Antiquities Act which he used to proclaim 18 National Monuments." In all Roosevelt protected -- or as Republican senators would claim, "socialized" -- 230 million acres of public land.
If, on the other hand, Roosevelt was nominated to run an economic agency like Treasury, Commerce or Labor, the GOP and business lobbyists would see a threat of epic proportions. With Roosevelt being one of the trust-busting estate-tax-championing leaders of the original progressive movement, the GOP would use his confirmation hearings to vilify him in Heritage-esque terms as a Manchurian Candidate aiming to secretly induce a "gradual transition to democratic socialism."
No doubt, the Slate magazine headline about Roosevelt -- "McCain's Hero: More Socialist Than Obama!" -- would be held up at his confirmation hearings as the single reason for senators to vote against him.
The nomination of Jesus Christ to any position in the Obama administration would be promptly met with outrage from Republicans who would inevitably label it an "in-your-face" pick.
Citing Jesus' support for peace, his endorsement of the meek inheriting the Earth, his harsh criticism of the rich, his advocacy for the poor, his willingness to turn water into wine without making a profit, and his work giving out free healthcare to those in need, Republicans would hammer this bearded guy wearing sandals and a robe as both a pacifist agitator and a dangerous class warrior. They would also point to Chapters 2 and 4 of Acts as proof that he inspired his disciples to fight free market economics and, as scholar Greg Paul described it, take up the cause of "outright socialism of the type described millennia later by Marx."
1. God, I-All
Holding up a thick Bible "teeming with unnecessary rules and regulations seeking to deter economic growth," the GOP would argue that God is simply too much of a Big Government ideologue to be trusted with the power that comes with an executive branch office. As evidence, they would slam the 4th Commandment as a heavy-handed unfunded mandate dictating the employer-employee relationship; and they would castigate the 8th and 10th Commandments as thinly veiled assaults on free market capitalism.
Ultimately, the Almighty's confirmation hearings would be dominated by a powerful poll-tested line used in one of the GOP's SuperPac television ads against the nomination: "In God We Trust," the talking point would go, "but we must also to remember to trust and verify."