Say it Ain’t So, Norm!

Published: September 13, 2010

By Jim Lichtman
Read More

I like this guy.

Alright, I’m not much of a groupie, but… if I were ever invited to The White House, the person I’d most like to meet would beNORM!

“It’s a dog-eat-dog world and I’m wearing milk bone underwear.”

No, not that Norm, but I have no doubt that Norm Eisen, President Obama’s “ethics czar,” probably feels that way most days.

Dubbed “Mr. No” by critics and friends alike, Norm’s job revolves around keeping White House staff ethically on-track.

“Shortly after Election Day,” The Washington Post writes (Mar. 13, 2009) “Eisen gave a series of PowerPoint lectures to explain the new rules: a 90-minute conversation with the president; a meeting with the first lady; a visit to every Cabinet secretary; regular group sessions for about 200 people, including everyone from interns to senior aides. Each new hire must receive ethics training within the first 90 days of employment and then at least once each year after that.”

Some of my favorite proverbs according to Norm:

“How’s this going to look on the front page of The Washington Post?”

“I’m not saying that one dinner a lobbyist buys for you at the Ritz-Carlton is going to result in an outright bribe, but does it make you a little more inclined to take his call? To hold a meeting? Do years of those dinners and golf retreats weaken you a little bit?”

“Sometimes my job is to scare the bejesus out of everybody.”

Eisen is “…a first-generation American,” the Post writes, “the son of a Holocaust survivor and a poultry butcher who had an arranged marriage and immigrated to South Central Los Angeles to run a hamburger stand. ‘I’m up from the bootstraps,’ Eisen said, ‘and I feel a very strong sense of obligation and loyalty to the country that might be old-fashioned.’”

These are just some of the reasons why I’d like to meet Norm.  Except, now Norm’s leaving for some far away Ambassadorship in Europe.

“The pending departure of… Eisen,” The New York Timeswrites (Aug. 6) is generating angst among outside ethics watchdogs who admire his work…

“The White House is losing a unique individual, and the loss of Norm is real,” said Lisa Gilbert, a specialist in government ethics at the Public Interest Research Group, a private advocacy organization. “We just hope changing the structure doesn’t change the focus and lessen the intensity.

“Since the start of the administration, Mr. Obama has relied heavily on Mr. Eisen,” the Times said, “a friend and classmate from Harvard Law School, as his special counsel for ethics and government reform, with a broad portfolio encompassing White House policies on campaign finance, lobbying, whistle-blower protections, ethics and other issues.”

According to the website “who runs government, “Eisen’s role as the ethics enforcer has earned him the name ‘Mr. No.’”

“Norm is not afraid to tell people what they can’t do, and it doesn’t matter if it’s a Cabinet secretary who wants a waiver to hire somebody or a junior staffer who got a Starbucks card for taking someone on a tour,” Cabinet Secretary Chris Lu told The Washington Post.

Who takes Norm’s place?

“Robert Bauer,” The Times writes, “the White House counsel, will assume leadership on ethics issues, while a newcomer will be brought in at a lower level in day-to-day oversight of a team of about a half-dozen White House officials.”

Looks like it could be another dog-eat-dog world in the West Wing.


Leave a Comment

Read More Articles
The Latest... And Sometimes Greatest