President Joe Biden’s Cabinet nominations had been moving forward pretty well until the past few days. Now they’ve run into trouble. Neera Tanden (nominated to lead the Office of Management and Budget), California Attorney General Xavier Becerra (Health and Human Services) and Rep. Deb Haaland (Interior) are facing opposition from Republicans. Tanden’s nomination, in particular, looks stalled, and Biden’s team is said to be considering alternatives.
In some ways, Tanden’s case stands out. Republicans have profound policy differences with Becerra and Haaland, so they’re right to ask questions and test the candidates’ qualifications and competence. When it comes to policy, Tanden is eminently qualified — and a moderate with a pragmatic approach to budget policy very much in line with Biden’s. She’s facing opposition not mainly for her views on policy, but because in the past she’s said mean things on Twitter.
Certainly many of Tanden’s tweets seemed calculated to make enemies — a strange approach for somebody who might hope one day for a Cabinet appointment. She’s called Sen. Susan Collins “the worst” and Sen. Mitch McConnell “Voldemort” and “Moscow Mitch.” Her feuds extended not just to senior Republicans but to anybody she disagreed with, including supporters of Sen. Bernie Sanders. Twitter vituperation is hardly confined to Tanden: It’s the whole point of the platform. Nonetheless, her belligerence was widely noted, and if you deliberately cause offense, you shouldn’t be surprised when people are offended.
Unfortunately, a new generation of lawmakers and policy professionals seems to be learning this lesson the hard way. Getting caught in embarrassing gaffes and bald hypocrisies online is only part of the problem. Social media rewards crude sloganeering, reductive thinking and maximum partisanship — all antithetical to pragmatic governance and sound policy making.
Tanden has apologized and appears genuinely regretful. In view of that, and her clear qualifications for the OMB job, it’s a shame her aggression on social media can’t be overlooked. In any event, her setback offers a lesson that many others should take to heart: A preference for basic civility and temperate disagreement would serve the country well.