Mark A.R. Kleiman responds to my most recent post on "czars" with a substantive point, and with claims that I am somehow "fellow-travelling" with ridiculous "wingnuts." The substantive point is that "Somin’s claim that assigning White House staffers such cross-cutting authority risks giving inappropriate people great power by 'circumventing the normal appointment and confirmation process' doesn’t really pass the giggle test. The White House Chief of Staff isn’t a Senate-confirmed position, and wields far more power than any nominal 'czar.' Van Jones’s 'czardom' consisted of a brief from the President to cajole other executive branch officials about “green jobs.”
I think that this greatly understates the power of the various czars. Their authority includes power over the massive auto industry bailout (the "car czar"), the War on Drugs (the "drug czar"), and a czar who oversees the war in Afghanistan and Pakistan, among others. It's true that Van Jones' position was relatively minor. But the czars as a group have authority over many important issues. As for the White House Chief of Staff, I think there is less need for Senate confirmation of an official whose main job is, after all, to oversee the president's own staff. He has very little independent authority over policy. However, in an administration where the chief of staff's position does extend to policy in a more significant way, it is indeed possible that the chief of staff selection should be subject to greater scrutiny than it currently gets. Whether or not that is so, I think my original point stands. The czar system does circumvent the regular appointment and confirmation process [update: with a few exceptions, including the drug czar], and that fact does pose dangers.
Kleiman's second claim is that I (and perhaps other VC bloggers), have been dangerously associating ourselves with "wingnuts":
The comments to Somin’s post reflect the danger that sane people run when they think that they can safely fellow- travel with insane people. The objectively insane belief that Barack Obama is a Marxist is offered in (apparently) perfect seriousness. Jones’s (former) self-identification as a “communist” made him too hot to handle politically. But Glenn Beck’s next target is Cass Sunstein, with his views on animal rights and the Second Amendment as the pretext. Having tasted blood, the wolfpack is coming back for more. Sunstein, as a commenter points out, has been a guest poster on the Volokh Conspiracy. But that won’t protect him from the full Jones/Sotomayor treatment, though his white skin might. From a libertarian perspective, Sunstein is a far more attractive choice for OIRA than anyone likely to replace him. But will the Volokh Conspirators rise to defend their former colleague when their current allies turn on him?
That famous poem by Pastor Niemoller on the risk of not speaking out starts “First they came for the Communists.” Any serious libertarian or conservative who tries to use the Beck/O’Reilly/Limbaugh/Palin faction rather than denouncing it is playing with fire. Lie down with dogs, get up with fleas.
To the extent that Kleiman's accusation is based on silly things that some people said in comments to our posts, I think it hardly needs to be said that I don't endorse, agree with, or "fellow-travel" with everything said by commenters. After all, there are many comments to my posts that attack me or my views in all sorts of ways. If I deleted all comments I disagreed with, there wouldn't be many comments left, and the whole point of having comments would be undermined. I have previously written that Obama is not a socialist. The fact that some commenter to one of my posts says otherwise does not mean that I have changed my mind or endorse the sentiment in any way.
Kleiman is also wrong to suggest that we haven't defended Cass Sunstein's nomination to head OIRA. Indeed, my co-bloggers have written an entire series of posts defending Sunstein's nomination. I myself agree that Sunstein is well-qualified for the job and is better from a libertarian perspective than most others whom the administration could have appointed.
Finally, Kleiman implies that it is wrong for us to ever ally on any issue with various conservatives who hold ridiculous views on other matters. In my judgment, the issue is more complicated than that. If Kleiman's overwrought analogy between these conservatives and the Nazis referenced by Niemoller was accurate, it would indeed be dangerous and wrong to ally with them on anything. But I think it's pretty obvious that Limbaugh and Glenn Beck, despite their excesses, are a far cry from Hitler and Goebbels. Opposing Sunstein's nomination - even for silly reasons - is not the same thing as wanting to send people to concentration camps. As co-blogger Jonathan Adler points out, various left-wing groups have also attacked Sunstein's nomination, often for reasons that aren't much better than Beck's. Does that mean that "serious" liberals must forego all cooperation with these groups?
Beck, Limbaugh, and some other conservative talk show hosts and pundits do indeed say ridiculous things, and I have sometimes denounced such people (and would do so more often, if I paid more attention to them). Whether political cooperation with these individuals is warranted will vary from case to case. You don't have to agree with all of a political ally's views, or even, to use Kleiman's terms, think that they are all "sane." Sometimes, association with "insane" allies is self-defeating because it tends to discredit the cause in the eyes of the public or because it indirectly serves to promote their more dangerous ideas. Other times, the insane have enough clout that an important battle can't be won without them. Consider, for instance, the Anglo-American alliance with Stalin during World War II. Only rarely will the circumstances justify allying with an evil as great as Stalin's. However, it takes a much less dire situation (like, say, a massive expansion of government) to justify some libertarian political cooperation with Glenn Beck or Rush Limbaugh - who are not exactly in Stalin's league as evildoers go.
UPDATE: I have edited this post to make a few grammatical and stylistic corrections.