Thursday, January 21, 2021

Firin' Biden

The Joe Biden administration has already begun with a bit more fire than the "sleepy Joe" chanting GOP had probably hoped for. Among the moves they made on day one came the termination of several particularly noxious Trump-era holdovers. This is big news, if no other reason than it suggests that Biden will not, contra the fears of some, allow Republicans to have their cake and eat it too on the question of norms. Trump shattered norms for four years without nary a peep of complaint, and Biden does not appear interested in unilateral disarmament.

That's clearly a necessary move, and I applaud him for it. If the risk of Biden was that he'd be too enamored with the old model of Washington where gosh-golly we just play nice with one another and agreements will be made over some cocktails, the reward would be that he's a savvy enough DC insider to know when to play hardball. Indeed, while it's certainly too early to make such judgments, I'm feeling a faint burbling of hope that Biden might mimic Terry McAuliffe in Virginia -- the seemingly boring party man who punched way above his weight in terms of pushing an aggressive progressive agenda forward.

That's all good news for the immediate future. But what about the downstream effects? Who benefits if incoming presidential administrations feel more free to terminate the seemingly "burrowed" figures from the previous administration?

One of the main drawbacks to doing these sorts of terminations is that they leave gaps in the federal bureaucracy which are (temporarily, at least) filled by essentially whichever career civil servant happens to be next in line. The argument that the new normal favors Democrats would be that basically competent and conscientious bureaucrats are more likely to be at least amenable to Democratic priorities compared to Republican ones, and so the "empty" time will be less costly. The argument in favor of the Republicans is that Democrats generally need a fully functioning bureaucracy running on all cylinders to achieve their aims, whereas Republicans -- at least in their more nihilist moods -- can "achieve" their desires simply by allow things to fall apart.

Which will it be? Hopefully we won't find out, because hopefully the GOP will be in the political wilderness for a long, long time.

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