President Joe Biden has nominated Neera Tanden, a former adviser to Hillary Clinton and president of the Center for American Progress, to serve as head of the U.S. Office on Management and Budget. But that nomination is on the rocks after Sen. Joe Manchin (D–W.Va.) said he would vote against Tanden due to her history of tweeting aggressively at lawmakers.
"I have carefully reviewed Neera Tanden's public statements and tweets that were personally directed towards my colleagues on both sides of the aisle from Senator [Bernie] Sanders to Senator [Mitch] McConnell and others," said Manchin. "I believe her overtly partisan statements will have a toxic and detrimental impact on the important working relationship between members of Congress and the next director of the Office of Management and Budget. For this reason, I cannot support her nomination."
Many commentators pointed out that Manchin had no trouble voting to confirm Richard Grenell, who had also engaged in troll-ish behavior on Twitter, to be former President Donald Trump's ambassador to Germany. Some have suggested that Tanden is being subjected to a racist and sexist double standard—that she is being held to account because she is a woman of color. According to Politico:
Janet Murguía, the president and chief executive of the Latino advocacy organization UnidosUS, said she had a call with her team Monday morning where the issue of Biden's Cabinet picks hitting roadblocks sparked a protracted conversation and growing alarm.
"It's been incredibly disturbing to see a pattern or a trend emerging where people of color and women seem to be at the bottom of the list in terms of hearings and getting their confirmations finalized," Murguía said in an interview. "It's highly offensive to see this foot-dragging going on when we have such an incredible need to put these different leaders in place in these different agencies."
The problem with this line of argument is that there are many legitimate reasons to oppose Tanden for OMB. Incidentally, this is why Republicans need to be more careful about labeling all criticism of political figures as "cancel culture." Holding politicians accountable for political statements and actions they have taken in the past is perfectly valid and fair.
Tanden, for her part, has a long history of questionable views. For one thing, she is utterly unconcerned about the deficit in times of crisis. In fact, she previously said if wild government spending were unpopular with voters, then the feds should get "oil rich countries" in the Middle East to pay off our debts in exchange for military help.
"We have a giant deficit," wrote Tanden in a 2011 email. "They have a lot of oil. Most Americans would choose not to engage in the world because of that deficit. If we want to continue to engage in the world, gestures like having oil rich countries partially pay us back doesn't seem crazy to me."
At the time the email was written, "engage in the world" meant U.S. military intervention in Libya, a disastrous foreign policy that produced years of warfare and strife. Tanden is a figure of the Clinton approach to the Middle East; there are good reasons to vote against giving such people any role in overseeing government budgets and policy. It's neither racist nor sexist to keep the intellectual supporters of U.S. disasters in Iraq and Libya out of power.
Slate has indefinitely suspended Mike Pesca, host of "The Gist" podcast, after he argued in Slack conversations with colleagues that there might be some occasions when it is permissible for a white person to use the word nigger. Pesca specifically did not use the word himself during this discussion, though he argued that there might be legitimate journalistic reasons to do so. According to Defector:
The conversation continued sporadically for a few more hours before Pesca made his final point: "I don't think it's proper to use it in casual conversation and I'm in no position to tell Black NY Times workers that they shouldn't be worried it's going to pop out of a colleague's mouth at some point. If you want my opinion it's that there are some limited reasons why a non African American journalist or professor to use the word when conveying a quote in the name of clarity or factualness […] But it's not a comfortable point to even pursue right now. If I had the opposite opinion I know a hundred ways I could make the opinion I actually have seem horrible and racist, and you know what, maybe it is."
"I feel outraged," a Slate staffer told me when asked about Pesca's participation in the conversation. "I cannot believe I had to watch him enthusiastically provoke people on whether or not it is appropriate to use a racist slur." Other Slate staffers that spoke to Defector expressed frustration and anger at Pesca's insistence on having that particular conversation. "I don't want to be in a workplace where people feel emboldened to have this argument. People's humanity is not an intellectual debate," one said.
The conversation was prompted by the news of the firing of New York Times journalist Donald McNeil, who was accused of upsetting teenagers with his use of the word during a Times-sponsored trip to Peru.
Now Pesca finds himself in a similar situation: His podcast is suspended pending an investigation by his bosses at Slate. "This was not a decision based around making an isolated abstract argument in a Slack channel," said a spokesperson for the magazine.
But then it's not clear why Pesca was suspended at all.
This slur, by the way, has appeared numerous times on Slate's website. A search for the word returns 375 results, including an article from July 10, 2020, "Big Scrabble's decision to eliminate offensive words has infuriated players like never before." The author of that piece, Stefan Fatsis, argued that it was absurd to consider the use of offensive words in Scrabble as a form of hateful speech. Although he did not use the word himself, he did quote Randall Kennedy, the author of Nigger: The Strange Career of a Troublesome Word, and referenced the book's title in the article.
It's one thing to use the word maliciously—it's quite another for journalists and educators to quote it in certain contexts, including discussions about the meaning of words.
My takeaway from this event: SAY NOTHING ON SLACK EXCEPT, "hey."
— Damon Linker (@DamonLinker) February 23, 2021
Reporters might finally get their hands on former President Donald Trump's tax returns, according to CNN:
The Supreme Court cleared the way for a New York prosecutor to obtain former President Donald Trump's tax returns, dealing a massive loss to Trump who has fiercely fought to shield his financial papers from prosecutors.
The documents will be subject to grand jury secrecy rules that restrict their public release.
The ruling is a bitter loss for Trump, even if the tax records are shielded from public disclosure, after he consistently argued that the subpoena issued by Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance was overbroad and issued in bad faith.
- The U.S. death toll from COVID-19 has passed the 500,000 mark.
- Sen. Ted Cruz (R–Texas) isn't the only politician from the state who skipped town after the terrible winter storms: Embattled Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton went to Utah with his wife for "previously scheduled meetings."
- The Conservative Political Action Conference is slated to begin later this week in Orlando, Florida. The theme is "uncanceled," though the conference has already canceled one speaker over his offensive statements.
- Nancy Rommelmann in The Dispatch: "Words as Weapons: How Activist Journalists are Changing the New York Times."