Neera Tanden Stands Out: An enemy of the left and the right?
When President-elect Joe Biden announced his choice to lead the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) last Monday, many pundits claimed that Republican senators would sink Neera Tanden’s confirmation. Hers would be the sacrificial nomination that Republicans could comfortably thwart. She’s “unfit to be confirmed by the U.S. Senate,” Tom Cotton of Arkansas said, because of her frequent nasty tweets about Donald Trump and his congressional allies.
Democrats attacked the hypocrisy. Claire McCaskill, former senator from Missouri, said on MSNBC, “We’ve had a president who has used his Twitter account like a battering ram. Now all of a sudden it’s a disqualification for someone to serve in the cabinet that engaged in her own opinion on Twitter?” Biden suggested the same in his Tuesday interview with Thomas Friedman, saying that such Twitter use “disqualifies almost every Republican senator and 90% of the [Trump] administration.”
The controversy about Tanden, a former adviser to Hillary Clinton, grew as liberal Democrats criticized her nomination. Supporters and staff of Senator Bernie Sanders “seethed” at the announcement; as Holly Otterbein writes in Politico, “Tanden is one of the Democratic elites who helped sink [Sanders’s] 2016 campaign behind the scenes, not to mention a union-buster, a threat to Social Security, a hippie-puncher who constantly picks fights with the left, and much more.”
That Tanden apparently “punched” or “slugged” or “pushed” Sanders’s 2020 campaign manager Faiz Shakir years ago has added to the dissension. Writing in The Guardian, Arwa Mahdawi asserts that “Neera Tanden’s unremorseful bullying should disqualify her from Biden’s cabinet.” Mahdawi argues that the fact that women are held to higher standards of behavior than men are doesn’t excuse women’s behavior; rather, we should hold everyone similarly accountable. “If you can’t manage your temper,” Mahdawi concludes, “you shouldn’t be managing the budget.”
Tanden’s problems with the left don’t end here. As The Washington Post reported yesterday, Tanden’s work for the last nine years heading the liberal Center for American Progress (CAP) has led to fund-raising efforts with “deep-pocketed donors who made their fortunes on Wall Street, in Silicon Valley and in other powerful sectors of corporate America.” If her nomination goes through, “Tanden [will] have a hand in policies that touch every part of the economy after years spent courting corporate and foreign donors.” Though Tanden has support from Senators Elizabeth Warren and Sherrod Brown, prominent progressives who respect her ethical standards, she still faces questions from others.
Why so much interest in Neera Tanden? Perhaps because the controversies that surround her reflect the conflicts we face in U.S. politics today. Women in power, especially women of color, still attract suspicion. As the daughter of Indian immigrants, she has a name that most Americans don’t recognize. And what about Tanden’s bullying? In the wake of unprecedented presidential bullying, should we care? When Amy Klobuchar announced her presidential candidacy in February 2019, many stories highlighted her treatment of her congressional staff. We tend not to hear these stories about men. There’s also the role that corporate and foreign wealth play in our politics. Progressive think tanks depend on this money as much as conservative ones, and the staffs of Republican and Democratic administrations alike cycle through high-powered jobs with inherent conflicts of interest.
Neera Tanden’s nomination illuminates the messy, uncomfortable sides of politics. But is she qualified for the job? Undoubtedly. After four years of incompetent and inexperienced officials directing government agencies, she’s an excellent choice. Still, the challenges of gender, race, temperament, and money persist even as Democrats take charge — challenges that won’t go away easily, it’s important to note.