Senator Demented makes the case for all-czar government…

What is it about South Carolina’s Latin loves? Or more precisely, what is it about their Latin passions that drives South Carolinian politicians insane?  First, we had Governor Mark Sanford falling head over heels for his sweet little alfajore from B.A.. Now, we’ve got South Carolina Senator Jim DeMint in a lovesick swoon for Honduras’s ...

580021_091002_rothkopfb2.jpg
580021_091002_rothkopfb2.jpg

What is it about South Carolina's Latin loves? Or more precisely, what is it about their Latin passions that drives South Carolinian politicians insane?  First, we had Governor Mark Sanford falling head over heels for his sweet little alfajore from B.A.. Now, we've got South Carolina Senator Jim DeMint in a lovesick swoon for Honduras's de facto president Roberto Micheletti.

Despite the fact that Sanford lied to his constituents and betrayed his family, his saga was almost poignant. He clearly suffered acutely from that uniquely male disorder that involves the blood rushing from the brain and taking up residence in other parts of his anatomy. He went lovestupid. (It reminds of a true story told to me by a former Argentine ambassador. He ... who had five or six wives ... was having a conversation with his pal, then Argentine President Carlos Menem, himself a famous connoisseur of the opposite sex. Menem said, "you know, my friend, you and I are a just a couple of old putaneros." And the Ambassador responded, "No, Mr. President. You are a putanero. I am a romantic. Hence the five or six marriages.) Guys like that can't help themselves.

What is it about South Carolina’s Latin loves? Or more precisely, what is it about their Latin passions that drives South Carolinian politicians insane?  First, we had Governor Mark Sanford falling head over heels for his sweet little alfajore from B.A.. Now, we’ve got South Carolina Senator Jim DeMint in a lovesick swoon for Honduras’s de facto president Roberto Micheletti.

Despite the fact that Sanford lied to his constituents and betrayed his family, his saga was almost poignant. He clearly suffered acutely from that uniquely male disorder that involves the blood rushing from the brain and taking up residence in other parts of his anatomy. He went lovestupid. (It reminds of a true story told to me by a former Argentine ambassador. He … who had five or six wives … was having a conversation with his pal, then Argentine President Carlos Menem, himself a famous connoisseur of the opposite sex. Menem said, “you know, my friend, you and I are a just a couple of old putaneros.” And the Ambassador responded, “No, Mr. President. You are a putanero. I am a romantic. Hence the five or six marriages.) Guys like that can’t help themselves.

Then there is DeMint, who has fallen so hard for Micheletti that he decided to go visit him and whisper sweet nothings in his ear, despite the fact that his support for the interim president would run directly contrary to the foreign policy of the U.S. government. Apparently, the passion that draws DeMint down Tegucigalpa way is so strong and disorienting that he somehow thought no one would object. Senator Kerry, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee did and cancelled DeMint’s trip. As of late Thursday, Senator Mitch McConnell then reinstated the trip under the aegis of a different committee. And no doubt there will be further chess moves on this front, with DeMint so goggle-eyed over the dubious appeals of the Micheletti government that he seems to think that this issue ought to be a top priority, taking precedence over say, everything else in U.S. foreign policy or policy in the region.

We know he thinks that the little telenovela that is playing out in Honduras is the most important thing happening in the hemisphere because — apparently over this issue — he has personally blocked the confirmation of the administration’s two excellent, highly qualified nominees to be Assistant Secretary of State and Ambassador to Brazil. This issue has driven him nuts and he is going to drive the rest of the government nuts too, by golly! That’s patriotism. Them’s priorities. That’s a South Carolina man in (ideological) heat.

However, in behaving in such an over-the-top fashion (and he’s certainly entitled to his opinion … the problem starts when he starts compromising the ability of the United States to conduct its foreign policy to make his point), DeMint is actually doing a service. Because he is making the most compelling case possible against the dangerous current argument that the appropriate response to the Obama administration’s czarism is demanding Senate approval of even more presidential appointments.

As readers of this blog know, I was out there early tallying up czars and objecting to how many there were. But I was objecting because I felt that often (but certainly not always) such positions were redundant and didn’t make for effective executive branch management. I never suggested … or dreamed … that the answer would be a push to give the Congress even more authority over executive branch appointments.

This Senate has an appalling track record of blocking appointments to advance personal agenda issues, pursue vendettas completely unrelated to the confirmation process in question and otherwise impede the ability of the government to get its work done in the most demanding times imaginable.   Senator Demented is a prime example of the problem … but he is just one example.

Look at the appalling case surrounding the Senate’s foot-dragging in confirming Lael Brainard as Under Secretary of the Treasury for International Affairs. It is not just frustrating or inappropriate … it is a dereliction of duty for the Senate to have allowed the United States to go through its worst global economic crisis in our lifetimes without its senior-most international official. And according to several recent tallies I have seen, overall confirmations are lagging the slow pace of previous such processes, such as during the Bush transition, by a not inconsiderable margin. (Although some of the blame here admittedly must go to a White House vetting process that is responsible for its own share of self-inflicted wounds.)

Does anyone really believe that the U.S. Senate has somehow earned even more authority and power given its recent record of oversight failures, personal scandals and the inability to lead on the critical questions of the day? And don’t reflexively roll out the constitutional argument. It has long been an established practice that only a modest fraction of executive branch appointments get Senate approval and many of those closest to the president, his direct White House staff including key posts like chief of staff, national security advisor, director of the national economic council, etc. do not. This is because it is recognized that the chief executive deserves autonomy in the selection of those who work directly for him-as many of these czars do. Frankly, given the way some senators abuse their power, I’m surprised the administration hasn’t considered making the move to an all-czar government.

Frankly, what ought to be under review is the dangerous practice … which is definitely not mentioned in the constitution … which gives individual Senators the right to do such damage to the interests of the United States by blocking nominations. At the most there should be a time limit on their ability to delay confirmation processes … although frankly, I think it is utterly inconsistent with the ideals of representative government that an individual should have the ability to abuse power the way DeMint has or his colleagues regularly do.

Through his actions, DeMint draws our attention to a crisis not in Honduran democracy but to one in the way democracy works right here at home.

Jose CABEZAS/AFP/Getty Images

David Rothkopf is visiting professor at Columbia University's School of International and Public Affairs and visiting scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. His latest book is The Great Questions of Tomorrow. He has been a longtime contributor to Foreign Policy and was CEO and editor of the FP Group from 2012 to May 2017. Twitter: @djrothkopf

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