End of the Sunstein Era

by Pejman Yousefzadeh on August 4, 2012

I am on record as having urged the Obama administration to nominate Cass Sunstein to the Supreme Court when Justice David Souter retired (alas, Team Obama doesn’t listen to me all that much). Whatever my political disagreements with Sunstein, he is smart, thoughtful, and open to considering alternative points of view; virtues that distinguish him from a host of port-siders.

So it is with a measure of disappointment that I note that Sunstein is leaving his position as head of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs in the Obama administration. Oh, the decision to leave is understandable; institutions of higher learning usually place something like a two-year time limit on the ability of their professors to do things like taking time away from the classroom to serve in government (after two years, the professor in question is in danger of losing tenure). But Sunstein–who true to his nature was always willing to work with business instead of fighting it in order to win points with populists and the Occupy movement–will be missed by those who would still like to believe that it is possible for the private and public sectors to work together to solve problems instead of having the latter constantly serve as the former’s whipping boy.

Now, the question is whether the Obama administration will allow the Sunsteinian mindset to remain even as Sunstein leaves, or whether Team Obama will focus on veering to the left in the aftermath of Sunstein’s departure. The former is essential for the formulation and implementation of good policy. The latter might shore up the president’s base in advance of November. We’ll see whether Barack Obama is more interested in doing the smart thing when it comes to regulatory policy, or whether he is more interested in getting re-elected.

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