We've had some unusual Cabinet secretaries in past administrations -- Earl Butz, John Mitchell and James Watt come to mind -- but never anything quite like the present bunch.
Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner has overseen some $5 trillion in new debt. To help pay for it, he wants the rich -- the top 1 percent already contributes more in income taxes than does the bottom 90 percent -- to pay more for what he calls "the privilege of being an American." Geithner, whose department oversees the IRS, should have taken his own advice: As a rich American one-percenter, he once failed to pay his own self-employment taxes, and improperly claimed his children's camp costs as a dependent-care deduction.
Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar has pulled off the near impossible: At a time when the known gas and oil reserves of the United States on public lands have soared, he has cut back on federal leasing of them to just about 2 percent of available offshore lands and 6 percent of onshore. Meanwhile, huge new amounts of oil are now found on private lands despite, not because of, the Interior Department. When he was a U.S. senator, Salazar claimed that even $10-a-gallon gas would not change his mind about voting to increase offshore drilling. And although he controls the leases of the richest oil and gas reserves in the Western world, he just recently shrugged that no one knew whether gas would hit $9 a gallon.
Then there is the even stranger case of Energy Secretary Steven Chu, whose department helped oversee millions in bad loans to green companies like Solyndra, First Solar and Solar Trust of America -- the Teapot Dome scandals of our times. Chu once infamously quipped before assuming office that he wanted U.S. gas prices to reach European levels. Apparently Chu wanted to force less fossil-fuel burning -- although he later confessed that he does not drive a car.
Chu also once warned that the California's Central Valley agriculture might disappear due to global warming. True, it could decline, but more likely due to the Obama administration's decision to divert irrigation water in hopes of helping out the 3-inch San Francisco Delta smelt. Chu should realize that private-sector California farmers create thousands of jobs, while his own Cabinet's Solyndra-like projects have done precisely the opposite.
Attorney General Eric Holder dropped charges against the New Black Panther Party for voter intimidation. That may explain why he said nothing when the same group put out a dead-or-alive bounty poster on George Zimmerman in the Trayvon Martin shooting case. Holder's department is suing the state of Arizona for passing a law to enforce the largely unenforced federal immigration law. Holder suggested that the Arizona law was racially inspired even as he admitted that he had never read it. Holder has praised the race-baiting Al Sharpton for his "partnership" and called the country "cowards" for not holding a national conversation on race on his terms. The attorney general has referred to African-Americans as "my people," and he has characterized congressional oversight of his office's failure to rein in the Fast and Furious scandal as racially motivated attacks on himself.
Labor Secretary Hilda Solis just tried -- and failed -- to draft a proposal prohibiting kids under 18 from working "in the storing, marketing and transporting of farm product raw materials," even on family farms. And she wanted to turn over some farm training programs now run by the Future Farmers of America and the 4-H to the government. Most Americans raised on a farm believe that the times spent doing chores with their parents, siblings, and neighbors were the most important and rewarding years of their lives.
Yet more worrisome, Solis is selective in her enforcement. She envisions new rules for businesses, but she first should have ensured that her family had followed old ones. When Solis was nominated, it was learned that her husband had several tax liens against his business, some of them 16 years old. And not long ago, Solis' department posted a video advising illegal aliens to call her office if they felt they were treated unfairly by employers. Abusing workers is wrong, but then so is entering and residing in the United States illegally -- as a Cabinet official should know.
The common theme with these Cabinet secretaries is loud, uninformed rhetoric; a lack of practical experience; a certain utopian zealotry -- and an expectation that there are rules for government grandees and quite different ones for the rest of us.
(Victor Davis Hanson is a classicist and historian at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, and the author of the just-released "The End of Sparta." You can reach him by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org.)