Still, it’s good that her mean tweets will probably doom her chances of being confirmed to head the Office of Management and Budget. You reap what you sow, and Tanden deserves this.
For those of you just now joining this melodrama, Tanden’s confirmation hopes went on life support this week after announcements from Democrat Joe Manchin and Republicans Susan Collins and Mitt Romney that they would not support her nomination.
“Congress has to be able to trust the OMB director to make countless decisions in an impartial manner, carrying out the letter of the law and congressional intent,” Collins said in a statement. “Neera Tanden has neither the experience nor the temperament to lead this critical agency. Her past actions have demonstrated exactly the kind of animosity that President Biden has pledged to transcend.”
Collins may be an infuriating messenger, given everything she managed to overlook or express meaningless “concern” about with Donald Trump. But there’s still reason to cheer Tanden’s likely sacking, and an overdue opportunity to reestablish some standards of decorum and civility. In our current society, Twitter provocateurs get ahead and mean tweets often beget fame and publicity.
But while that might be tolerable for aspiring pundits and activists, we used to draw the line at public servants. Let’s start doing that again, by disincentivizing Twitter trolling and un-normalizing the hurling of lowbrow insults.
Republicans rewarded trolling and normalized lowbrow insults with Donald Trump, and look where it got them (and us). Rather than living down to that standard for the sake of “fairness,” Democrats should aspire to a higher one. Joe Biden promised a higher bar, and I don’t see holding him to that standard as a punishment.
Keep in mind that when I’m talking about Tanden, I’m not talking about something stupid a teenager tweeted, mind you, but thousands of things published by a high-functioning adult who was simultaneously interacting with some of the top political leaders in the nation. Having her face consequences would be a good example for young people entering the workforce to see.
It would be a good example for older folks to see, too. We have become a very permissive society. What we need is for some adults to occasionally say, “No. I’m sorry, but we don’t do that here. You can’t do that. We hold ourselves to a higher standard.” Yes, this is a conservative point of view.
Now, you might argue that this is cancel culture run amok, but I say it’s accountability culture. No, we shouldn’t fire every Star Wars actor or Google employee (or, God forbid, every conservative columnist) who holds a controversial view or tweets something unsavory. But when you want a high-profile job in a presidential administration where cooperation and collaboration are vitally important, it’s a deal-breaker to have a social media history of attacking key stakeholders.
And it should be noted that Tanden’s body count is extensive and bipartisan. It includes Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (“#MoscowMitch” and “Voldemort”), as well as Bernie Sanders and other progressives. In fact, during her confirmation hearing, Sanders told her, “Your attacks were not just made against Republicans. There were vicious attacks made against progressives. People who I have worked with, me personally.”
Others will claim that this reeks of racism or misogyny. Truth be told, I do think that Republicans are looking for an excuse to take down at least one of Biden’s nominees, and Tanden is the low-hanging fruit. That’s not because of her race or gender, though; it’s because of her social media history. And her deleting more than 1,000 tweets is an implicit admission of guilt.
This issue is multi-layered, of course. Why are Republicans who enabled Trump’s toxic rhetoric opposing Tanden? Isn’t that hypocrisy? Yes! And why is Democrat Joe Manchin, who supported Jeff Sessions(!) as attorney general, opposing Tanden at OMB? And how is it that Joe Biden and his team never thought to vet Tanden’s Twitter feed? While all of these questions have an embedded political agenda, my primary concern reflects a cultural agenda: restoring some sense of normalcy and accountability to our country. Tanden might feel like a weird place to start, but if not now, when?
The temptation for Democrats will be to point out the Republican hypocrisy. They will want to say that turnabout is fair play, and point out the unfairness of holding Tanden accountable when Trump has tweeted, said, and done so much worse. This is an understandable reflex, but also one that perpetuates the problem. If we are ever going to break this cycle, someone will have to stand up and do the right thing. Rather than looking to Democrats or Republicans, the adults seem to be in the center: Manchin, Romney, and Collins.
The hope is that we can move past Trump and reestablish some norms that, eventually, will be observed by Democrats and Republicans. This doesn’t mean Republicans won’t roll over again, but it does mean they’ve articulated a standard that they can be judged against if they later fall short of it. At the very least, this would send a message to any aspiring young Republican that this sort of behavior might cost them down the line.
This is not some small or frivolous project. If you don’t appreciate how toxic tweets can poison a political environment, consider how different life has been with Trump off of Twitter.
In a different context, I would love to be the guy arguing we should give Tanden a second chance and that this isn’t that big of a deal. We don’t have that luxury. Sometimes you have to set an example. Neera Tanden doesn’t deserve our sympathy. And nobody owes her a job. She brought this on herself. You live by the tweet, you die by the tweet.