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What the Neera Tanden Affair reveals about the swamp of Washington DC

In defense of a terrible candidate and a corrupt DC culture, Republicans are hypocritical while Democrats trample on the reasons they want to address. “As her records show, Tanden is a victim, just as war is peace, that is, she is not a victim, she is a perpetrator. Photo: Reuters In searching the rubble to understand this era, future anthropologists should dust off any record of Neera Tanden’s nomination for an obscure but powerful White House office. The whole episode is a miniature museum diorama that illustrates so many things that perished in the transition from democracy to oligarchy. And on this matter, all the politicians, experts, news agencies and apparatchiks involved in the Democratic Party speak very clearly. Tanden is nominated for the Office for Administration and Budget, which oversees the federal budget. As a political officer and head of a corporate-funded think tank, she doesn’t have particularly relevant experience for the appointment – whether in governorships, mayorships, or budget committees in Capitol Hill – there are far more qualified expert solo appearances. Additionally, her particular record as a mid-level manager in any organization, not to mention the White House, would raise significant red flags: during her tenure as director of the Center for American Progress, she is said to be a victim of sexual harassment and a physical employee attacked. While running the organization, the GAP raised cash from corporations and overseas governments, and a report was revised to allow a billionaire donor to avoid control of its policy of bigoted policing. Critics claim Tanden broke up a journalists’ union. And she envisioned cuts to social security when the Democrats in Congress tried to stop them. Even if you ignore Tanden’s infamous testimony about Libya and oil, as well as her vicious crusade against Senator Bernie Sanders and the progressive base of the Democratic Party, all of these other items seem to disqualify Tanden for a job on a Democratic government that claims to have expertise respect and protect women, workers rights, social programs and government ethics. From the start, any single Democratic senator could have simply quoted Biden’s promise to be the “most union-friendly president” and stated that they would not vote to endorse anyone accused of undermining a union. Or they could have said they won’t let someone who runs a corporate-funded think tank – whose nomination is sponsored by one of Washington’s most diabolical corporate lobby groups – run the White House office to waive government ethics. At the very least, these topics should have been major topics of discussion in their confirmation hearings and in the news media. But the opposite has happened. This recording is almost nowhere to be found in the discourse. Instead, the central topic of discussion is Tanden’s late, out-of-control anger tweeting. On the right, troll-in chief Donald Trump’s Republican Party pretends that Tanden’s online rhetoric – and not her record – disqualifies. On the left, the Democratic Noise Machine incites the Republican Party’s hypocrisy while falsely pretending that Tanden is a victim. These self-righteous tanden defenders have kept silent about their actual record. Aside from a few solid, political-centric reports, journalists mostly track senators to get their reactions to Tanden’s tweets rather than asking about their past behavior. Some media people even promote the mythology of Neera as a victim, ignoring and diverting attention from Tanden’s alleged attack on a union of journalists. As her records show, Tanden is a victim just as war is peace, that is, she is not a victim, she is a perpetrator. But the Republican Party, Democratic Party and Washington Media Machine will not allow the records that document this fundamental, verifiable, indisputable reality to be reviewed, litigated, or considered. The debate is deliberately drawn into a conversation about their online etiquette that has absolutely no relevance to the actual date (and I say this as an occasional target of Tanden’s Twitter vitriol). All of this is a grotesque form of extinction. Democratic politicians, Beltway liberals, and media voices don’t just clap, rationalize, or justify Tanden’s record on the matter, they are doing something worse: they’re trying to memorize Tanden’s record and pretend it doesn’t exist. They devastated the same liberals Reasons these defenders should take care of. In addition, the Tanden Brigade – and their online army, which is now harassing reporters with racist vitriol – cynically rely on a political and media environment that enables such a reminder. They use the brute force of their own denial propaganda and a miasma of distracting misinformation to ensure that no one realizes they are exposing themselves. They make it clear that their hopes of career advancement, their desire for access to the White House, and their personal connections with a think tank power broker are more important to them than any social cause. Taken together, such behaviors mean more than the death of expertise. They mean the willful murder of the most basic facts that are supposed to influence democratic decision-making. The motives here are unspoken but obvious: no one in any party or in the Washington media wants to focus Tanden’s nomination on their actual record, because if that record is disqualified for career advancement in Washington, it could set a precedent that the personal Career Opportunities Endangered Every creature slipped through the swamp of Washington. Indeed, if corruption, mismanagement, bullying, union destruction, and pie-style austerity suddenly become negatively perceived, then all of the real life Veep characters in Washington – the politicians, activists, and media elites who ‘I’ve spent all my life following Fishing for offbeat White House titles may be unlucky. Realizing the power of this tribal motivation is crucial as it explains why Democrats seem to be spending as much or more political capital trying to save Tanden’s nomination as they are doing to save Americans from economic disaster. This is no exaggeration: the White House has signaled that it is working on the phones and pulling out all the stops for the OMB candidate, while the government has signaled a possible preventive withdrawal of the minimum wage and a readiness to limit promised survival controls. Such skewed priorities and misguided decisions may seem inexplicable to future anthropologists looking back at this moment. For them, however, it will make perfect sense if they understand that the Tanden Affair is exemplary of the fact that in this era of end-stage democracy the top priority of the effective political elite did not help millions of people, but rather defend the progressive agenda and it didn’t even ensure election victory. It was something deeper, more tribal, and more corrupt: the self-preservation of the swamps. David Sirota is a US Guardian columnist and award-winning investigative journalist. He is an editor at Jacobin and founder of The Daily Poster. He was the speechwriter for Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign

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