Unlike Goodwin Liu, Peter Diamond was not a controversial pick. He's a Nobel-prize winning economist, at the top of his field, and exactly the kind of person you'd expect to be serving on the Federal Reserve. The Republican excuse for deep-sixing his nomination, which would be hilariously out-of-touch if it weren't the nation's economy we were talking about here, is that Diamond was "unqualified."
Allow me to echo Ezra Klein here with a resounding "WTF?!" The guy won a Nobel Prize. He's qualified.
And since Diamond was a likely advocate for additional stimulus in the face of a flatlining economy, allow me to echo Jonathan Cohn, and point out the continued trend of the GOP forcing economy-wrecking policies on the nation, something which will, in turn, "coincidentally" help Republican politicians get elected. Oh, I'm sure some Republicans really do believe the rationale for their votes: that the best way to boost a struggling economy is always to cut spending and stand aside. But those people are way out of the economic mainstream, and as little as three years ago were a minority voice in their own party. Then, all at once, the entire GOP decided to resurrect the ideas of Herbert Hoover. You expect me to believe that part of the reason isn't the knowledge that, even if they're dramatically wrong, they still stand to gain from it?
But most of all let express my consternation at the continuing inability of the Senate to actually staff the government. Approval of nominations have slowed to crawl in the Obama presidency. I've complained about this before, and I'm going to complain about again, and again, and again, until it's fixed. Look, I don't care if you're on the left or right, it doesn't benefit you to have a bureaucracy that's running at half strength. It makes nothing work better, and everything work worse. And that's even true if you believe in smaller government, generally speaking. If we've got it, we may as well make it function as it's supposed to.
But here generally, as with economic policy specifically, the Republicans have wittingly or unwittingly adopted the role of national saboteurs. After all, what better way to convince people that government can't solve their problems, then by ensuring that it isn't able to?
Even if I could think of some sort of coherent objection to Diamond's nomination individually, based in his likely job performance, it's impossible to think of a coherent defense to current Senate practice on nominations. Other than I'm-a-Republican-and-I-want-to-see-Obama-crash-and-burn there's literally no explanation for why the government would suddenly need significantly fewer people filling its most important offices.
As an approach to governance it's unacceptable. As a political tactic, it's indefensible. I, for example, think people should drive less and use public transportation more; this is the political equivalent of me going around cutting brake lines in the night. It's like if Democrats sent money to Iraqi insurgents in order to discredit Bush's drive to war. As long as we agree that the government can't run itself, elected officials have a moral obligation to their constituents not to purposefully trip it up at every opportunity.
(None of this means that the entire conservative movement won't soon construct a complex post hoc rationalization explaining why this sort of self-interested behavior is in fact compelled by their ideology, à la the wholesale adoption of the Austrian school.)
Where does it all lead? David Weigel (an independent libertarian, for the record) says it best:
[W]e're at the point now where academics in their 60s, with no political ambitions, can't be appointed. Boards like IPAB and the CFPB? Republicans don't like that they exist; they probably can't be staffed, ever.I'm sure that Democrats will reciprocate next time they're in the minority -- although history suggests not nearly to the same degree. But this can only continue for so long. If every Congress confirms fewer nominations than the Congress before it, a crisis or collapse will eventually happen, and maybe someone will have to do something. Unfortunately, that seems to be a long ways off, and things are going to get worse before they get better.
In the meantime, it remains perilously unclear how a person actually makes it through the nomination process and into the Federal Reserve, or the judiciary, or the Consumer Financial Protection Board. And so there's going to be just one more empty seat. I'm sure that helping run the nation is a difficult job. But right now, the hardest part is getting the Senate to let you in the front door.