A new batch of Nixon tapes was released to the public recently. One tape features President Nixon and Charles Colson chortling over the appointment of Peter Brennan as Secretary of Labor. Brennan had been the head of the building and construction trades union in New York City. The tape confirms that Nixon and Colson viewed his selection as a masterstroke in their effort to bring the “hard hats” and other working class stalwarts into the Republican party.
Nixon and Colson do not seem to have been bothered by the fact that nothing in Brennan’s background indicated his fitness to run a sizeable bureaucracy with responsibility for an array of reasonably important programs affecting the lives of American workers. Nor did Brennan demonstrate such fitness during his two year stint at DOL. My father considered Brennan the worst Labor Secretary during his 25 plus year at the Department. (He considered Nixon’s other two Labor Secretaries, George Shultz and James Hodgson, the best).
Today we were treated to a post-modern version of the Brennan selection when President-elect Obama tapped Rep. Hilda Solis (D-CA) to be his Secretary of Labor. Solis is a “three-fer” – Hispanic, female, and long-time darling of organized labor (she co-sponsored the odious “Employee Free Choice Act”). Obama has rewarded organized labor for its backing in much the way Nixon rewarded those segments of the labor movement, led by Brennan, that supported him in 1972. And, as with Brennan, there is nothing in Solis’ background that suggests her fitness (intellectual or administrative) for the job of Labor Secretary.
The face of the labor movement has changed radically since the days of Brennan’s hard-hats. For example, Brennan and his “hard hats” would be appalled by Solis’s ultra-liberal views on illegal immigration ( reportedly, Solis once said “we are all Americans whether you are legalized or not”). But politics hasn’t changed much, and the Labor Department is still too often a political dumping ground.
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