Thursday, February 5, 2009

Howard Dean to be HHS Secretary?

A great idea.

Sen. Harkin Backs Dean For HHS Secretary

The idea of nominating Howard Dean to head up the Department of Health and Human Services has the backing of at least one prominent national Democrat.

Iowa Senator Tom Harkin, who endorsed Dean's presidential campaign in 2004 and is rumored to be in the HHS running himself, applauded the idea of the former DNC header taking over the cabinet post vacated by Tom Daschle.

"I think that would be a very good move," Harkin told the Huffington Post. "He brings all the background and experience. He's very strong on prevention and wellness, which I'm very strong on. I think he'd make an outstanding secretary of HHS."

Asked if he had spoken to White House on the matter, Harkin demurred: "I'm not going to get into that," he said after a pause.

Dean's hopes of taking over HHS -- he would, those who know him say, take the job if offered -- is, at this point, not a campaign. The former Vermont Governor has and will remain mum on the notion because, as he himself admitted, the surest way to not be chosen is to actively pine for a post. In progressive circles, however, supporters of Dean insist that he is best suited for the job, having managed health care in Vermont and served as a doctor himself.

Whether this endorsement helps or hurts is a topic of debate. The conventional wisdom seems to be that Dean's frosty relationship with White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel will be the main impediment to his ending up at HHS. Others are concerned that a major netroots movement to appoint Dean will actually turn the White House off the notion. They don't want it to seem like they are "bending to the demands of the left," as one Democrat put it -- not because they aren't concerned with progressive priorities, but because the choice will be criticized as an effort in political pacification.

I'm frankly skeptical that the pragmatist Emanuel would put dislike of Dean ahead of what's in the interest of furthering the Obama administration's agenda.  The idea that Emanuel's personal conflict with Dean, stemming from their conflicting strategies in the 2006 Congressional race, might sidetrack a good nomination makes no sense.   If that angle of the story is true, and if the Obama administration wants to preach bipartisanship, they might start by putting an end to counterproductive grudges within the Democratic Party.

More serious an impediment to Dean's nomination to HHS might be concern that it would be spun as a move to the left by the Republicans and the news media.  I can just hear the Fox News crowd screaming "socialism" with wild-eyed expressions, and the CNN commentators thoughtfully intoning "partisanship".   Obama shows signs of wanting to placate the right and their media sounding board with centrist nominations and talk of compromise.  I don't know how Dean would fit into that strategy, but, frankly, that strategy is being overused.  Dean is hardly a leftist, although he, like Obama, is sometimes portrayed as such.  President Obama should choose the person best able to establish, articulate and implement the best policy.  If the Republicans choose to attack Dean without concern for the real world implications, let their strategy be exhibit one in President Obama's argument against partisanship and for pragmatism.  It's time to ask for bipartisanship to be reciprocated.

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