Why the knives are out for General Kelly

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Drawn by the prospect of an excellent lunch with a good friend at a renowned Irish Tavern I recently found myself on a very cold day walking through the Oak Square section of the Boston neighborhood of Brighton. Passing Bigelow Street, I realized this was the boyhood home of embattled White House Chief of Staff General John Kelly.

 This circumstance was recalled to mind as I and much of the nation observed the unfolding of the "Porter Affair", a matter usually a two-day story that has nonetheless obsessed the national media for two weeks and counting.

 At its heart the Porter fracas involves the breakdown of the process attending "interim security clearances" a decades old practice necessitated by the sudden arrival of new employees of a new administration just two months after a Presidential Election.  Anyone who has gone through the process knows how cumbersome and time consuming it is and why interim clearances are granted for essential positions while an elaborate investigative process unfolds.

The career of Rob Porter, a staff secretary to General Kelly, a one-time golden boy- Harvard, Oxford etc.- came crashing down with the belated surfacing of serious allegations of spousal abuse leveled by not one but two ex-wives.  In an ironic similarity to ex-Senator Al Franken the clincher in Porter's downfall was a single photograph, in this case of one of Porter's ex-wives with a very graphic black eye.  Within hours of that photo being broadcast across the nation, Porter - protestations of innocence not withstanding- was gone.

To understand this uproar one must see it in the context of the extraordinary political- cultural maelstrom that has swept across the nation in the form of the #Me Too movement.  Under this regime allegations are instantly tantamount to guilt and a requirement of career-ending punishment.  Bedrock legal principles of "Due Process" and "Innocent Till Proven Guilty" are swept aside in the interest of a "higher imperative".

Very few had any sympathy for the odious Harvey Weinstein or even the subsequent parade of fallen celebrities such as Charlie Rose, Matt Lauer, Garrison Keilor, etc, or the clutch of politicians who made swift exits (e.g. Roy Moore) but eventually the #Me Too purges began to approach vague and inequitable extremes.  Polling now shows that an originally sympathetic public believes the movement has gone too far.

All of which brings us to General Kelly against whom no allegations have been made other than he "mishandled" the termination of Mr. Porter, one of the few capable employees he inherited from his predecessor Reince Priebus.

When he was first appointed Chief of Staff following a most distinguished military career, and a brief but highly effective stint as Secretary of Homeland Security Kelly was almost universally hailed as a much needed "adult in the room" amidst the frequently chaotic White House staff.

 Very quickly Kelly fired a collection of leaking  "loose cannons"- Scaramucci, Omarosa, and most notably Steve Bannon- and strictly limited the access of others- e.g. Corey Levandowski, and even members of the Trump family.  Most impressively he succeeded in imposing a degree of order and structure on the schedule of his famously impulsive President.

By common consent the self-effacing Kelly's "Shuttle Diplomacy" to Capitol Hill was the key element in the narrow passage of the historic tax reform signed into law by President Trump in late December.  Suddenly the narrative of a "do nothing, achieve nothing " Presidency morphed into a grudging acknowledgement that Trump's first year was actually quite productive. 

More judges were appointed than by any first year President, sweeping deregulation unleashed a stagnant economy, and provided relief to the long suffering, but vital small business sector, and finally tax cuts for 80% of working families, and dramatic reduction of the onerous corporate tax rate has turbo-charged American competitiveness worldwide.

It is in this summary of successes that we find Kelly's real sin, and the reason that large numbers of Democrats and media pundits are howling for his resignation.  It is not what he did with Porter, but rather what he has done for Trump i.e. transforming an erratic and careening White House into a respectable, credible, and productive operation in just six months. 

To those for whom the destruction of the Trump Presidency is the highest imperative, Kelly has become Public Enemy Number One.  As the Wall Street Journal editorialized this week, ".the people who want Mr. Kelly fired don't want a better White House Staff.  They want perpetual political dysfunction".

When this level of political amorality is invoked to justify any and all damage to the country, our polarized Republic is in the gravest peril.


William Moloney’s columns have appeared in the Wall St. Journal, USA Today, Washington Post, Washington Times, Philadelphia Inquirer, Baltimore Sun, Denver Post and Human Events.