Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood has announced today that he will leave the Obama administration as soon as a replacement can be found. Over the past four years, the former Republican congressman from Illinois did all he could to undermine what might have otherwise been a respectable political career. His service made a lasting, and negative, impact on the nation’s finances and its political culture.
LaHood’s main role was to put a Republican face on the disastrous Obama stimulus. Just as former Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-NE) will likely be used to carry out the unpopular cuts at the Department of Defense, so LaHood was used to carry out unpopular big-spending programs. He did not just deliver money to the states for transportation: he tried to force them to take it, using threats against states that preferred fiscal prudence.
“You all are going to be in the high-speed rail business,” LaHood told the states, then moved to reallocate transportation funds from those states that refused to follow the administration’s preferred high-speed rail plans. He targeted Republican governors who understood that federal stimulus money for high-speed rail would commit their states to budget-busting long-term “investment” in trains on routes that might never be used.
LaHood also led the public hysteria over so-called sudden acceleration in Toyota cars, telling the public that Toyota models were unsafe to drive. The problem turned out to be driver error, but that did not stop the media damage and the class action lawsuits. It was perhaps no coincidence that the federal government had recently taken over General Motors and was determined to retake the #1 worldwide car production spot from Toyota.
Those are just a few of LaHood’s greatest hits, more of which are summarized at Hot Air. One incident deserves special mention: LaHood’s praise for the Chinese system of autocratic government, which included an attack on his own party for allegedly blocking the Obama administration’s infrastructure plans. It is embarrassing enough that a New York Times columnist should have such opinions, and inexcusable for a Republican.
There is nothing wrong, in theory, with Republicans serving in a Democratic Cabinet. Former Secretary of Defense William Cohen, for example, served with distinction in the Clinton administration. But when Republicans disgrace themselves and their principles to serve as “bipartisan” enforcers and mouthpieces for policies that diminish American fiscal and military security, they ought to be shunned, lest they tarnish the party’s brand.
It is telling that LaHood’s successor in the House of Representatives, Rep. Aaron Schock (R-IL), made an issue out of the wasteful stimulus signs that the administration put up along roadsides across the nation. Beyond the cost of the signs, the fact that they were used to hype President Obama and his agenda was an abuse of power, and reflected a cult of personality more suited to third world dictatorships than a democracy.
On his way out, LaHood endorsed Hagel’s candidacy, ensuring that the tradition of Beltway Republican sycophancy will continus. That is LaHood’s legacy, and it should haunt his political resumé going forward. The best that can be said of his four years in office is that they are ending. Yet the spending over which LaHood presided, and which he tried to impose on unwilling states, will remain with Americans for a long time.