The official line from the White House on the Glenn Beck “Restoring Honor” rally was What rally? That position is certainly understandable from a political perspective, and probably not bad from an overall perspective, either. The federal government shouldn’t take an inordinate amount of interest in lawful and peaceful political demonstrations in most cases, although certainly candidates for office should take heed of the electorate’s expressions of anger and dissatisfaction in this cycle especially.
However, it appears that one large portion of the federal government not only took an interest in another rally, but its Cabinet Secretary cajoled its staff to attend it. Arne Duncan sent an e-mail to more than 4000 Department of Education employees urging them to attend Al Sharpton’s protest rally on the same day as Beck’s:
President Obama’s top education official urged government employees to attend a rally that the Rev. Al Sharpton organized to counter a larger conservative event on the Mall.
“ED staff are invited to join Secretary Arne Duncan, the Reverend Al Sharpton, and other leaders on Saturday, Aug. 28, for the ‘Reclaim the Dream’ rally and march,” began an internal e-mail sent to more than 4,000 employees of the Department of Education on Wednesday.
Unlike the Beck rally, Sharpton’s was explicitly political, and partisan:
“[Conservatives] think we showed up [to vote for Barack Obama] in 2008 and that we won’t show up again. But we know how to sucker-punch, and we’re coming out again in 2010,” Sharpton said.
Obama avoided comment on Saturday’s dueling rallies, but Duncan took the podium alongside Sharpton and 30 other speakers on the football field of Dunbar High School. Thousands of mostly blacks listened — and a lone man booed — as Duncan called education “the civil rights issue of our generation.”
The Washington Examiner says this does not appear to violate the Hatch Act, which was written to keep taxpayers from paying federal employees’ salaries while they conduct political activity, but this sounds like it comes close. It also reflects poorly on the administration that it spends its time sending employees to rallies rather than doing their jobs. By making the DoE explicitly political, it also destroys its credibility — and makes it a potentially hostile work environment, as a former DoE program manager explained to the Examiner:
“It sends a signal that activity on behalf of one side of a political debate is expected within a department. It’s highly inappropriate … even in the absence of a direct threat,” Boaz said. “If we think of a Bush cabinet official sending an e-mail to civil servants asking them to attend a Glenn Beck rally, there would be a lot of outrage over that.”
Russ Whitehurst, director of the liberal-leaning Brookings Institution’s Brown Center of Education Policy, said nothing like this happened when he was a Department of Education program director from 2001 to 2008: “Only political appointees would have been made aware of such an event and encouraged to attend.”
Anyone with any experience in the private sector of managing people would understand that already. An “invitation” from the boss to a political event amounts to an implied diktat and a strong hint on approved political affiliation in the workplace, and everyone knows it. As we have seen in other contexts, though, this administration is almost bereft of such experience. Instead, it’s comprised mainly of political hacks … like Arne Duncan.