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Fuss Over Panetta Should Remind Hill Dems: It's Not About You

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Just in case some of the Democrats on Capitol Hill didn't get the message, let's be perfectly clear: A Democratic president is going to be inaugurated on Jan. 20. That means, among other things, It's Not About You, congressional Democrats. It's about Barack Obama and his overwhelming majority and the fact that Democrats pulled together to win a national election.

That's why it was so dispiriting to see the first comment on Leon Panetta's selection as director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) come from Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), the next chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, who said: "I was not informed about the selection of Leon Panetta to be the CIA director." Feinstein said she prefers an "intelligence professional" in the job. Similarly, Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W VA), who heads the committee now, said he's concerned about Panetta's lack of intelligence experience.

The fact that Feinstein eventually came around to supporting Panetta not withstanding, the whole exercise was just not necessary. After her public "indignation," Obama called and apologized. Her ego salved, and with promises that the CIA guys she likes will stick around, Feinstein gave her blessing.

Let us repeat, senators: "It is not about you." If anything, the Feinstein statement calls to mind the famous New York Daily News cartoon of former speaker Newt Gingrich as a crybaby for not getting a seat on Air Force One with President Clinton. The fact that Feinstein was "not informed" is secondary. Granted, the Obama team screwed up by not running the Congressional traps and notifications first. That's no excuse for popping off.

Assuming Feinstein has a legitimate beef, there were better ways to handle it. She should have put out a statement like this: "Leon Panetta has a long and distinguished career as a public servant. I look forward to discussing intelligence issues with him." Then she should have picked up the phone and called Rahm Emanuel and reamed him out, should she so desire.

Feinstein said often during President Bush's tenure that the president deserves his own cabinet. One of the times she said it was on the Alberto Gonzales nomination, and she voted spoke against him because of the tortuous definitions of torture that emerged from the Justice Department. It's now clear that the CIA was actually engaged in torture, so if Feinstein wants to be consistent she should welcome the appointment of a former Clinton chief of staff who opposed torture. Similarly, it would have been diplomatic for Rockefeller to take his views privately to the Obama team.

Ironically, the most positive comment came from Rep. Peter Hoekstra (R-MI), the senior Republican on the House Intelligence Committee. He said what the Democrats should have said, telling the Washington Post that new civilian leadership would be good for the agency. (Note: Did the Post story look as if it was written by embittered intelligence "professionals" pissed that one of their own got passed over?)

In making their comments, Feinstein and Rockefeller gave crafty old Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (KY) another reason to sit back and grin. How did Republicans object to Bush appointees? That's a trick question because by and large, they didn't. And if they did, the public didn't hear about it much.

The last election showed clearly that the public wants Democrats to govern. That means Senate Democrats, House Democrats and the Executive Branch led by President Obama. The hubris of the Congressional Democrats helped doom Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton, because of the constant stream of stories about Congressional Democrats fighting the president of their own party. That's an irresistible story for any Capitol Hill reporter.

For the time being, that story has to end, and end now. Obama comes into office with a clear election mandate, and the last thing he needs is the public view of a bunch of squabbling Democrats (see: Burris, Roland) doing the GOP's work for it.

Note: These views are my own, and not those of Public Knowledge.