Judd who? It is a sign of the self-importance Washington frequently indulges that the Federal City is breathless this morning over the news that Sen. Judd Gregg has withdrawn his nomination as the next Commerce Secretary. Fingers point on Capitol Hill. Screams and shouts on "Hardball." Big headlines in the Post.
If you doubt this is all inside baseball, run a brief experiment. Look up. Who is the first person you see? Go up and ask that person to name the previous Commerce Secretary. Or the one before that. Or anyone who has ever served as Commerce Secretary. Some historically minded colleague might recall that before he became President, Herbert Hoover was the Secretary of Commerce, but for the life of me, I can’t name a single person who has held the job since. Test 2: Next month, check how many times you see Mr. Gregg’s name in the newspaper.
The damage to President Obama will be minimal. Sen. Gregg put all the blame on himself for first agreeing to take a job that, as he realized what it entailed, seemed less likely to be workable. It would have been disastrous for Obama if Gregg had been found to have a tax problem, but there was no such difficulty. Outside of New Hampshire and news junkies, Judd Gregg can slink back into the shadows. He will still be a popular Senator, and Senators still wield an enormous amount of power. And the President of the United States now holds a chit from Sen. Gregg which he can cash whenever he wants. Sen. Gregg owes him.
One issue that received a brief mention in the news coverage of Gregg’s withdrawal is something that warrants significant attention: the U.S. census. The 2010 census will be the first in thirty years to be conducted under a Democratic Presidency. In 1980, when President Jimmy Carter oversaw the census, computers were as primitive as the pre-historic cave paintings of bulls. Since then, Republicans have insisted on actual head counts by that most fallible of counting mechanisms: human beings. Social scientists write long and deadly dull articles about how this method systematically undercounts the poor and minorities, and computer models allow us to get a count that is more accurate.
The census is the basis for determining the assignation of congressional districts. So, any system that undercounts the poor and minorities will reinforce their already limited ability to influence the levers of power. It is imperative that the way we count ourselves in this country reflects the advances that have been made in social science in the last thirty years. It appears that this was not a decisive issue for Sen. Gregg, but to the extent it was a factor, we should celebrate his withdrawal.
Sic transit gloria mundi. The "inside the Beltway" mentality puts Gregg’s departure on Page 1, above the fold. Inside, on page A12, there was a single paragraph about Pope Benedict’s meeting with Jewish leaders. The glory of the world may not be lasting, but it is certainly what captures the attention of the Beltway crowd. And, if Obama needs a Commerce Secretary, I’ll do it! I promise not to quit and I promise I paid all my taxes.