Where, Where the Hell Is Bill?


Bill Richardson just loves his country too much to let an ongoing New Mexico influence-peddling investigation muck up his confirmation as Commerce Secretary, and so good-bye. Mildly bad news, maybe, for those of us who cling to any capital-C Character that comes along in an otherwise dreary sea, much like early-'80s Cleveland once embraced Super Joe Charboneau.

More substantively, to the extent that the Department of Commerce impacts trade policy, it would theoretically seem unfortunate that a trade-bashing president-elect has let go a man once self-styled as a "market Democrat." But Richardson dropped that moniker faster than a heroin habit when he ran for president, campaigning unpersuasively against trade agreements, and otherwise doing what Brian Schweitzer and all the other once-ballyhooed (by fools like me) Mountain West Democrats have done–stand athwart a party bending leftward on economics and yelling "me, too!" For eulogies of the market-friendly strain within the Democratic Party, see these pieces by Tim Cavanaugh and David Weigel.

The worst news of all is that the Department of Commerce still exists. An $8.4 billion budget with 38,000 employees? What are they building in there? Helpfully, the department's website lets us know, right there on the front page. At a link entitled "Commerce Department Accomplishments" you can find, um, some speeches and fact-sheets about why trade is good? Of even less help is a little front-page box entitled "Commerce and You." There you can access a nifty little population clock for the U.S. and the world, but also such marginalia as the Official Time in Your Area, Today's Weather, and (my favorite) Grant Opportunities.

Way back in 1987, when Republicans still talked that way, Clarence Thomas asked in a Reason interview: "Why do you need a Department of Commerce?" And as late as '08, soon-to-be disappointing Libertarian Party presidential candidate Bob Barr told us that, "The Department of Commerce, to my mind, has no legitimate Cabinet-level function."