The Other Foot

Now the shoe Is on the other foot. One of the most depressing characteristics of the hyper-partisanship of Washington is observing how parties and ideologues so easily switch their arguments depending on who’s in power.

A cable signed by a thousand State Department employees pushing back against President Donald Trump’s executive order freezing refugee admissions and banning citizens from seven majority-Muslim countries from entering the United States has incurred the wrath of Republican lawmakers.

The cable — along with the the refusal of the now sacked acting attorney general Sally Yates to defend the executive order — prompted a stern condemnation from Rep. Pete Sessions (R-Texas), chairman of the House Rules Committee.

“When someone works full time for the government, it should be no surprise to them that they serve at the pleasure of the [president],”he told The Hill newspaper. “I’m not interested in politics by an agency employee,” he added.

(In fact, Sessions is wrong when it comes to the vast majority of the federal government’s 2.1 million employees — career civil servants do not serve at the pleasure of the president).

On Thursday, Robert Moffit, senior fellow at the Heritage Foundation, told Breitbart News Daily that for civil servants who wish to oppose or obstruct Trump, “The right thing to do if you cannot carry out the policies of a democratically elected president, the right and honorable thing for you to do is what people do all the time when they’re in jobs that they’re being asked to do things that they conscientiously object to – and that is resign. That is a very honorable thing to do.”

But cast your mind back to May 2015 when the Heritage Foundation was mounting a different argument about the rights as well as duties of public servants. The Daily Signal, the conservative think tank’s media arm, posted a commentary written by Ryan Anderson, a public policy research fellow at Heritage, headlined: “Civil Servants Have Rights, Too. Government Should Respect Them.”

In the commentary, Anderson defended a religious exemption law passed by North Carolina’s legislature aimed at protecting magistrates who object to solemnizing ceremonies for same-sex marriages and clerks who object to issuing same-sex marriage licenses. The law allows magistrates or clerks to recuse themselves.

Anderson described the law as “good public policy,” arguing, “Government employees have rights, and those rights should be protected.”

Jump to June 2016, and Walter Russell Mead writing in the conservative American Interest, had no difficulty refraining from lambasting 51 diplomats for signing a cable roundly criticizing Barack Obama’s Syria policy. In fact he greeted the dissent as “a massive demonstration of the State Department’s lack of confidence in a policy that will be a stain on this administration’s legacy.”

And he added: “Never has a President’s policy had so much pushback from his own high officials and appointees. Never has a President defied so much evidence to insist on the unique cerebral brilliance of a policy in ruins.”

No demands for resignations there — or anxiety about civil servants opposing publicly a president’s policy.