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Tilting at Windmills

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December 30, 2009

BORED NOW.... After listening to incessant conservative whining for several days now, I realize that the right is targeting Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano. I just can't figure out what it is, exactly, that conservatives think Napolitano did wrong.

Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) is complaining that he didn't like the look on the DHS secretary's face.

In the wake of the attempted bombing of a plane bound for Detroit, Rep. Peter King (NY-R) criticized Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano for appearing "bored." [...]

"Finally, Janet Napolitano comes out and the first thing she said was everything worked well. And she seemed almost like she was bored to be there. There was no intensity. There was no show of emotion," he said.

That's what it's come to with today's Republican Party -- in the wake of an attempted terrorist attack, one of the first GOP responses is to blast the Homeland Security secretary for her tone and facial expressions. King wants her to be more "emotional."

Is there something in the water I'm not aware of?

Keep in mind, King went on to say about the Obama administration, "Let me make it clear, I think they are doing the right thing as far as their policies. Since this attack occurred, the FBI and, as far as I can tell, Homeland Security and all the agencies of the United States government are doing the right job."

So, a leading Republican lawmaker is blasting the head of DHS, not because of her on-the-job performance, but because she was calm and composed during a public statement.

I'm at a loss here. Going after Napolitano for "the system worked" is pretty silly. Going after Napolitano for the look on her face while talking to the media is insane.

And yet, we have at least one GOP lawmaker calling for Napolitano's resignation, a call that some in the media seem to think has merit. But I still don't know what it is that the DHS secretary is being accused of. As John Cole put it, "What did she do wrong? Napolitano didn't change any procedures which then led to the bomber getting through security. She didn't shift the DHS budget in a way that impacted security. She didn't botch the response. And her statement is factually correct, and only wrong if you completely distort what she said." Napolitano's biggest mistake has nothing to do with her responsibilities and everything to with "giving Republicans (with yet another assist from the liberal media) a sound bite that is easy to demagogue."

If the right intends to force out a high-ranking cabinet official who's been doing strong, capable work, they're going to have to do better than "she seemed almost like she was bored."

Steve Benen 1:55 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (32)

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Comments

'King wants her to be more "emotional."'

Yeah, that way he can accuse her of being a "hysterical female" who needs to be replaced.

Posted by: Zandru on December 30, 2009 at 2:02 PM | PERMALINK

It's abundantly clear that the proper response was a Will Ferrell-esque "We've got to keep our composure!" moment like in "Old School"...

Posted by: Mike Lamb on December 30, 2009 at 2:04 PM | PERMALINK

Maybe we should start demanding that Pete Sessions resign for holding up the TSA director's nomination. And why stop there? I expect that we could come up with a reason for every Publican in the country to be forced to resign that would be more substantial than this phony criticism.

Posted by: Stephen1947 on December 30, 2009 at 2:05 PM | PERMALINK

There are two benefits to the GOP regarding the ejection of Napolitano: first, it reinforces the strongly held Villager meme that Republicans have stronger security credentials than Democrats; second, that unless the Obamas nominate Dick Cheney or his daughter as the new Homeland Security mandarin, they will be able to stymie any nominee put forth while screaming that the Democrats have put this nation at intolerable risk.

Look at how DeMint can place a hold on the TSA job and never take any heat at all for obstruction. Hell, Politico is probably rewriting DeMint press releases and excitedly posting them up there as you read this.

Posted by: clyons11 on December 30, 2009 at 2:10 PM | PERMALINK

Peter King has one of the worst cases of what I like to call "Political Tourette's Syndrome" that I've ever seen, because the bulls__t that he says is so ridiculous even I get amazed by it. You want Napolitano out because of her FACIAL EXPRESSION?! WTF?!

Then again, I must remember this is a guy who tried to say Baghdad was no different than Times Square (funny, I didn't know Times Square had that many suicide bombers strutting around) and who practically suffered a public meltdown over the decision to try KSH and other Al-Qaeda guys in NYC. So it shouldn't surprise me.

Posted by: gf120581 on December 30, 2009 at 2:14 PM | PERMALINK

King wants her to be more "emotional."

Of course he does. For Republicans, the highest display of patriotism is pissing one's pants in fear.

Posted by: TR on December 30, 2009 at 2:15 PM | PERMALINK

Using their swinging eye to get a pound of flesh within sight, these partisan Republican politicians have no street cred left. Cockamamie calls for resignation are nonsensical and don't make us safer (their professed desire?).

Their efforts to politicize fear and national security is doomed to failure - we will not have any of it anymore! -Kevo

Posted by: kevo on December 30, 2009 at 2:19 PM | PERMALINK

But remember, Steve, that this is exactly the same response we heard from the FOX Noise crowd after the president's West Point speech. Obama did what the Right wanted, "listened to his commander on the ground" and sent another 30,000 troops to Afghanistan. What Obama didn't do, and what drove the wingnuts nuts, was beat his chest and call the enemy "evidoers" or "terrorists" or talk of "victory" instead of a more modest "success."

The only language Republicans understand anymore comes in a radical idiom. So adults talking seriously about serious problems is entirely incomprehensible to them.

Posted by: Ted Frier on December 30, 2009 at 2:23 PM | PERMALINK

"Going after Napolitano for "the system worked" is pretty silly."

No, it isn't. It was a ridiculous thing to say, it clearly wasn't true, it made her look like someone with her head in the ground. Just because some of the people who are criticizing her are chicken littles doesn't mean her performance here has been exemplary. The fact that Senator DeMint is even more of a fool for holding up nominee the TSA director's post, doesn't mean she's not a fool. Maybe she doesn't have her head in the ground. But now the onus is on her to prove it.

Posted by: larry birnbaum on December 30, 2009 at 2:27 PM | PERMALINK

Maybe if she had had the deer-caught-in-headlights look, the Republicans could relate.

She has done nothing wrong - she had no information at hand to act upon since it was never relayed to the HSS anyway. These choice Repubs are just grabbing at anything related to the administration to say "I told you so. The terrorists are coming to get us. The terrorists are coming to get us. John McCain would've NEVER let this happen".

Oh my, how pathetic can they be? Wait, don't answer that question....

Posted by: whichwitch on December 30, 2009 at 2:28 PM | PERMALINK

Larry, read the full quote

http://washingtonindependent.com/72207/if-you-take-her-out-of-context-then-yes-napolitano-said-something-dumb

Once this incident occurred, everything went according to clockwork, not only sharing throughout the air industry, but also sharing with state and local law enforcement. Products were going out on Christmas Day, they went out yesterday, and also to the industry to make sure that the traveling public remains safe. I would leave you with that message. The traveling public is safe. We have instituted some additional screening and security measures, in light of this incident, but, again, everyone reacted as they should. The system, once the incident occurred, the system worked

How is anything she just said "clearly not true?" It's bloody apparent she's referring to steps taken after the incident.

Posted by: Jeff on December 30, 2009 at 2:35 PM | PERMALINK

"Nonetheless, to the extent that terrorists have come into our country or suspected or known terrorists have entered our country across a border, it's been across the Canadian border. There are real issues there."

When Macdonald asked if she was referring to the 9/11 perpetrators, Napolitano answered: "Not just those but others as well."

Comments like the one above are why she should have been run out of her job long ago.

Posted by: burpster on December 30, 2009 at 2:39 PM | PERMALINK

I still don't understand why everybody puts the blame on Napolitano: first, her comment was taken OUT OF CONTEXT (like Jeff at 2:35 pm just said and Rachel Maddow pointed out last night in her show). But my other point is this: does TSA or US have employees in the Netherlands, where the underwear bomber boarded the plane? I usually travel to Argentina and the security there depends on the country, not the US, so when I fly back here, the security checkpoints are set up by Argentina's officials (although for example American Airlines has its own security "questionnaire"), so why blame the US agency for something that happened in another country where they have their own security rules???? I don't know, there must be something here that I'm missing....

Posted by: Monica on December 30, 2009 at 2:45 PM | PERMALINK

I will say that Napolitano's first interview was politically tone-deaf. I watched it live and wasn't impressed. Everything she said was accurate and true, and I appreciated the lack of hysteria, but she dodged questions about system failures with talking points about the ways that the system didn't fail. It felt like a knee-jerk CYA response.

That said, her saying "the system worked" was a gaffe in more or less the same sense as John Kerry voting for the bill before he voted against it. It was a perfectly honest and reasonable response in context that was unfortunately worded in such a way as to make an ideal sound byte for an opposition made of shrieking liars.

Posted by: LaFollette Progressive on December 30, 2009 at 2:48 PM | PERMALINK

Maybe she doesn't have her head in the ground. But now the onus is on her to prove it.

Hey moron, if you'd been paying attention to her record to date, as well as actually reading her full statement after the incident, maybe you'd realize that the biggest fool here is yourself.

Sorry, you'll have to find another phoney outrage, something a bit less blatantly ridiculous.

Posted by: Allan Snyder on December 30, 2009 at 3:03 PM | PERMALINK

"There was no show of emotion..." -- King

When are we going to get it that conservatives THINK EMOTIONALLY! And yes, I am aware that I'm shouting.

For years, we've scratched our heads at the irrationality of conservatism but rationality is immaterial to what they're all about. Facts do not matter. Truth does not matter. What they said 10 seconds ago does not matter.

What matters is whipping people into a frenzied state of hysteria. That's what the hissy-fit-of-the-minute is all about.

FEELINGS are what elected Reagan and Bush and Cheney. Feelings are the currency that Rove and Palin and Beck and Limburger and InsHannity trade in. Feelings are what people understand who cannot fathom the complexities of the modern world. For that matter, feelings are what got Obama elected.

That doesn't mean Democrats or liberals or progressives or whatever the hell we call ourselves have to copy Republicans, but it does mean we have to show some passion and appeal to emotions or we're going to continue getting beat up, even in the face of an ideology as bankrupt as conservatism has become.

In today's hyperbolic political and media environments, being rational is, in fact, irrational.

Posted by: beep52 on December 30, 2009 at 3:08 PM | PERMALINK

I agree with LaFollette. Notice Napolitano emphasizing that she'd "like to leave you with that message..." (the message that the post-incident system worked). Isn't the most important issue the fact that this guy got on board with explosives!?

I think she's done a good job, but those comments were worrisome and made her seem out of touch.

Posted by: polthereal on December 30, 2009 at 3:11 PM | PERMALINK

I expect that we could come up with a reason for every Publican in the country to be forced to resign that would be more substantial than this phony criticism.

I double dog dare you to come up with a substantial reason that every barkeep in America should be forced to resign.

Posted by: Sarcastro on December 30, 2009 at 3:16 PM | PERMALINK

I have very disappointed of late with Obama's decisions in regard to Health Care Reform and Afghanistan, but this current situation makes me very grateful that McCain did not win. President McCain would probably be bombing somewhere just for the sake of looking tough, and just making matters worse by creating a new bunch of terrorists.

Posted by: Outis on December 30, 2009 at 3:16 PM | PERMALINK

Going after Napolitano for "the system worked" is pretty silly.

Doubly so if in your next breath, you agree with her:

"Since this attack occurred, the FBI and, as far as I can tell, Homeland Security and all the agencies of the United States government are doing the right job."

Posted by: Quaker in a Basement on December 30, 2009 at 3:22 PM | PERMALINK

I just can't figure out what it is, exactly, that conservatives think Napolitano did wrong.

Perhaps I can be of some help here. There are actually two things, from the point of view of our conservative friends, that she did wrong:

1) She joined the Democratic Party.
2) She took a job in the Obama administration.

I hope this has been helpful.

Posted by: Roddy McCorley on December 30, 2009 at 3:26 PM | PERMALINK

For heaven's sake, folks!

As an Arizonan, I've had the opportunity to observe Napolitano on more than one occasion. She is a lowkey person. She just isn't into displaying a lot of emotion, nor is she particularly vivacious. It's just not her style.

So the f--k what? Did she make factual errors in her statement? NO. Is she responsible for overseas failures to pick up on a suspicious passenger? NO. Has she instituted procedures for future incidents? YES. (Joy, oh joy, are we all gonna have to be stripsearched now before boarding a plane?)

She did what matters. As for trying to please the Republicans, it ain't gonna happen. As someone pointed out upthread, if she had shown more emotion, someone would have labelled her a hysterical female. Democrats and the Obama Admin cannot do ANYTHING that will stop irrational criticism. All they can do is keep on doing what works and what is rational in a given situation, and when criticism is particularly egregious, strike back.

But to allege that Napolitano should have done something else? Puhleeeeeeeeeeeaaaaaaase!

Posted by: Wolfdaughter on December 30, 2009 at 3:42 PM | PERMALINK

I like what I've seen thus far out of Napolitano. She seems to me to exemplify the kinds of quietly competent, non-grandstanding, non-hysterical government official we need more of. I doubt very much the lapses in security recently on display have anything to do with her management personally.

Nonetheless, I agree with Sullivan on this one: Obama should fire her. No, that's not fair, true. But that's reality. Obama needs to contrast the operation of his administration with that of his predecessor, and show he's capable of management shake ups when mistakes occur -- especially potentially disastrous ones. Bush seemed incapable of letting subordinates go when he personally liked and/or admired them. But there's too much at stake for Bushian management technique to be employed in the America of the 2010s.

Posted by: Jasper on December 30, 2009 at 3:45 PM | PERMALINK

Monica - Calling this "out of context" is almost inexcusable. Taking a three word phrase out of context of a sentence needs a whole new term.

Posted by: inkadu on December 30, 2009 at 3:48 PM | PERMALINK

We should also harp on the fact that Republican want to damage American security. Firing Napolitano and replacing her (if the republicans would deign to allow a vote on a replacement) would take time and would further destabilize the organization. But Republicans don't care about reality.

Posted by: inkadu on December 30, 2009 at 3:50 PM | PERMALINK

So the f--k what? Did she make factual errors in her statement? NO

It's not about her PR skills. It's about the still apparently disorganized and dangerously ineffective air travel security policies of the United States -- policies that are conceived of and implemented in large part by the cabinet department headed by the former governor. Given the fact that Obama has been in office less than a year, I personally have no doubt that Tom Ridge is far more responsible for the underwear bomber than Janet Napolitano, but regrettably it's too late to fire Mr. Ridge.

Posted by: Jasper on December 30, 2009 at 3:50 PM | PERMALINK

Perhaps I can be of some help here. There are actually two things, from the point of view of our conservative friends, that she did wrong: 1) She joined the Democratic Party. 2) She took a job in the Obama administration. I hope this has been helpful.

3. She has a track record of winning statewide office in Arizona, and is a plausible future Senate candidate.

The motive to get Napolitano branded as a failure is stronger than for just any old Democrat.

Posted by: pain perdu on December 30, 2009 at 3:54 PM | PERMALINK

Napolitano and replacing her (if the republicans would deign to allow a vote on a replacement) would take time...

I'm not saying it should be done this evening. It may be better both for national security and for political reasons to wait until we're no longer in crisis mode. Still, if the president were to wait until, say, after the state of the union, it would provide time to quietly vet her successor. Which means it would not "take time" if you what you mean by that is allowing DHS to go without a chief...

Posted by: Jasper on December 30, 2009 at 3:55 PM | PERMALINK

Maybe she ought to take some tutorials from Boehner and Beck on how to be pleasingly hysterical on camera...

Posted by: exlibra on December 30, 2009 at 4:20 PM | PERMALINK

It has nothing to do with this, it's only the latest excuse. They've hated her ever since she released the report compiled under the Bush administration, which correctly pointed out that right-wing terrorism is a significant danger and that right-wing groups often target returning veterans for recruitment.

Posted by: T-Rex on December 30, 2009 at 5:23 PM | PERMALINK

Keep in mind that in the fact-free environment of Republican talking points, Janet Napolitano should be fired for not taking the threat seriously enough and for emphasizing that the response to the incident was handled appropriately, that new security procedures have been implemented and "that it is still safe to fly", but that if she had not made those last two points forcefully enough, they would be insisting she be fired for trying to destroy the airline industry.

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