Are You Now, Or Have You Ever Been...?

Rich Galen

  • During the fun-filled days of the House Un-American Activities Committee and Senator Joe McCarthy the standard question was: Are you now, or have you ever been, a member of the Communist Party?
  • Never mind that the Constitution protects the freedom of speech and "the right of the people peaceably to assemble" in the First Amendment and forbids the government from forcing a person to "be a witness against himself" in the Fifth Amendment, the "Red Scare" of the 1950's was real and real Americans turned a blind eye to the use of subpoenas to compel testimony against one's self, family, and associates.
  • The New York Times had a front-pager yesterday, about the questionnaire potential appointees are being required to fill out to see if they pass political muster, much less pass a FBI or Secret Service background investigation.
  • If this were an incoming Republican Administration, I guarantee you the name "McCarthy" would be on every front page in the nation in describing it.
  • I will tell you that I couldn't fill out this form if I wanted to, and even if I could, I wouldn't.
  • The very first question requires you to submit "all resumes or biographical statements" you've put out in the past 10 years. Who keeps those things?
  • Question four requires that you "chronologically list activities … from which you have derived earned income (e.g. self-employment, consulting activities, writing, speaking, royalties and honoraria) for the past ten years."
  • Are they kidding? Go back 10 years and reconstruct every speaking fee, every project, every consulting gig? Right.
  • Question eight: "Briefly describe any controversial matters you have been involved with during the course of your career."
  • What constitutes "a controversial matter?" And who is the Obama transition team "controversial matter" maven?
  • Question 10: "List and, if readily available, provide a copy of each book, article, column or publication … you have authored."
  • The problem with this one is it appears to be potentially a First Amendment issue. The Obama transition team must have not only a controversial matter maven, but a Democratic Orthodoxy referee.
  • Question 13 requests a copy of every e-mail, text message or instant message which "might be a cause for embarrassment for you, your family or the President-elect if made public."
  • Are you kidding me? Who HASN'T sent an e-mail, text message or instant message which "might be a cause for embarrassment?" In the past week!
  • It goes on and on in that vein including requiring a list of anyone you have ever had a close enough relationship with to be considered a "cohabitant."
  • Moved in? 'Fess up.
  • The problem with all of this intrusion is it will cause otherwise highly-qualified people to throw their hands up in frustration, disgust or both and say, "You know what? I have not been in a monastery since puberty and I don't want some 23-year-old volunteer reading - and probably sharing with her new colleagues in the back bar at the Old Ebbit - my deepest and darkest secrets. I'll just stay here at the law firm in Nashville" or wherever.
  • The Obama transition team, by trying to protect itself against any potentially difficult press inquiry, is probably sentencing the Obama Administration to a pool of potential hires for whom mediocrity is the norm.
  • Really smart people, really creative people, really driven people - exactly the kinds of people you want to attract to your team - are not going to take this test, much less pass this test.
  • The final question is the most insidious: "Provide any other information, including information about other members of your family, that could … be a possible source of embarrassment to you, your family or the President-elect."
  • Who doesn't have someone in their family who doesn't embarrass the rest of the family by simply being a member of their family?
  • I know that in my family we have such a person.
  • It's me.
  • On the Secret Decoder Ring page today: A link to a PDF file of all 63 questions; a really cool Mullfoto from a rainy New York City last night and a Catchy Caption of the Day.

Rich Galen, columnist

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