For days, I have been intending to write a longer note about the objections to Michael Baroody that some have had about his appointment by President Bush to serve as head of the Consumer Product Safety Commission.
I am only now getting beyond my intention to write this short piece as I have been tied up with a number of serious work-related efforts that had hard deadlines and have just been buried in work. That said though, just as I have begun to write what I know of Baroody, I have now received a statement from Senator Barack Obama stating:
Mr. Baroody made the right decision to withdraw his name from consideration. His nomination highlights yet again the need to slow a revolving door that creates conflicts of interest between government officials and the industries they’re supposed to be overseeing. I hope the President will appoint someone to this important position who has a demonstrated commitment to protecting the public from dangerous consumer products.
This post on TWN probably would not have been significant one way or the other in Mr. Baroody’s decision to remain in play or to withdraw his name, but I nonetheless feel compelled to make a statement about him that runs counter to the critiques that have been advertised. I also say this with the admission that I have been vigorously engaged in keeping some political nominees from getting confirmed — and actually in helping to dislodge other high profile pols from their positions. John Bolton and Paul Wolfowitz come to mind.
I also want to admit the fact that my blog had ads running on it that strongly opposed Michael Baroody’s appointment. I don’t really believe in censoring ads one way or the other, but I was uncomfortable with the victimization of Baroody and the way in which the “fox” image was used. Interestingly, after I posted my own critique of the Baroody ad, the ad changed its photo to one of President Bush.
But here’s the deal. Those who want to suggest that there may be an apparent conflict of interest between someone that comes from a commercial organization oriented towards the policy preferences of producers and manufacturers who then ends up as the head of consumer safety have a legitimate point. But the personal attacks on Baroody are just simply at odds with what I know about the person.
At least, Baroody deserved a fair hearing to test whether someone with one set of professional responsibilities could be trusted to deal with the interests of players on the other side of the equation. For example, in the 1920s Joseph Kennedy took millions out of the stock markets through all sorts of schemes and then helped establish and run the Securities and Exchange Commission to plug those holes.
Because I was interested in these attacks on Baroody, I dug into what some others thought of Baroody’s level of integrity (which I believe to be quite high for reasons I will explain shortly). I came by a letter of April 23, 2007 of two well-respected Labor officials who worked under Republicans and Democrats who wrote admirably of Baroody’s qualities but were shocked as well by the sliminess of the attack on him and his integrity. They write in one paragraph after some extensive commentary on his achievements as Assistant Secretary of Policy in the Department of Labor:
We are confident that the views of we two are shared by numerous career civil servants who served at the Department of Labor during these times. Like us, they must be puzzled by some of what has been written about Baroody’s nomination. The fair-minded and intellectually honest man we know is unrecognizable to us in the reported depictions of him by some of his critics. In a recent column, Ruth Marcus of the Washington Post did get one thing right in our view, however, conceding that “Perhaps Baroody would be a great Chairman. . .”
This is just a letter of support of two careerists who worked under a political appointee years ago, but the authors of the letter — Roland G. Droitsch and James D. Henry — are reported by people I know on the Hill as well-respected straight-shooters.
But my primary interest in Baroody comes from the fact that he and his father showed considerable integrity when it must have been tough for them and when it was personally costly to oppose strong currents in the Republican circles they were in. I just read a progressive commentary on the Baroody family that is so defamatory that I don’t want to post it or to accept responsibility in debunking it. But people engaged in this attack have, in part, misread the Baroody AEI history and have done shoddy research in my view on Michael Baroody’s work.
First of all, as I have written before and writers like John Judis have memorialized, Baroody’s father helped create and run the American Enterprise Institute as a legitimate think tank that because of his concern of doing something inappropriate and over the line of what was acceptable according to IRS regulations would not issue policy studies on issues until the votes had already occurred in Congress. It was the principled stance to be educational rather than advocacy oriented that drove the funders and instigators of the Heritage Foundation to break away from AEI. Baroody’s father was the principled player.
And secondly, when I was researching John Bolton’s various responsibilities, I became amazed by this story and how a non-profit, the National Policy Forum, that Haley Barbour had established and which John Bolton was once hired to run had its non-profit status withdrawn. Michael Baroody had also been hired to run this outfit but resigned when he saw the extremely high level and probably illegal level of partisan work the organization was doing. When this organization was investigated, Baroody was a key witness and clearly made a set of ethical calls regarding his own involvement.
We all have strengths and weaknesses, and clearly Washington is a rough and tumble town. I’m part of that arena here and am also tough-minded in my critiques. However, I believe in taking the high road for the most part and think that it is unfortunate in this case that Baroody withdrew. I would have liked to see how conflict of interest concerns between his current role and nominated position might have stood against other testaments — in part that I have found on my own — about his sense of integrity and public responsibility.
It would have been a fruitful discussion — whether or not Baroody would have succeeded in securing confirmation. But there was more to the Baroody story that was positive and impressive than was making its way into public discourse.
— Steve Clemons