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Too Clever: Snark Just Makes Things Worse in D.C.


The White House sees federal intervention as a way to protect consumers from unscrupulous advisers and save billions of dollars in losses attributed to lower-than-expected returns on retirement investments. That’s Democratic orthodoxy 101.  

Republicans see the rule as a burden on business and a limitation on individuals’ rights to seek financial advice from whomever they choose. It would be hard to find a proposal for a new federal regulation that Republicans didn’t feel that way about.  

So, it’s not a bit surprising that the Democratic president and the Republican Congress would clash over such a rule. What’s disappointing, though, is how they’ve chosen to treat each other in talking about it.  

Rather than sit down face to face, or hop on a phone call or dispatch emissaries, or simply state their differences publicly, respectfully and seriously, aides to the Speaker of the House and the President of the United States started trolling each other on Tuesday.  

Ryan’s office sent out a press release worded this way:  

fi·du·ci·a·ry rule [fi-doo-shee-er-ee rool]noun  (2016): regulation, Department of Labor.
1 :  A one-size-fits-all regulation from the Obama administration. 2 :  Creates more paperwork and costly record-keeping requirements for financial planners, restricting  access to quality investment advice for upwards of 7 million Americans with IRAs. 3  :  Results in higher costs for people seeking financial advice, disproportionately hurting families with smaller bank accounts.  

If the White House was annoyed, someone in the Oval Office could have let the speaker’s staff know privately. Instead, White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough Tweeted a snarky reply:  

“$17 bil・lion [‘bil-yuhn], noun: the cost to American families from conflicts of interest in retirement advice.” Yes, you read that right. The White House chief of staff — the top aide in the federal government — spends time trolling the speaker of the House on Twitter. Even if someone else wrote the Tweet for him, it’s beneath the dignity of his post.  

There are a lot of ways for our leaders to handle their differences — and, in some cases, resolve them. Trolling each other isn’t one of those ways.  

Ultimately, the fiduciary rule and the Pennsylvania Avenue “snark tank” aren’t matters of war and peace. No one’s going to die or lose their livelihood over a stray Tweet or a mocking press release.  

But at a time when the American public despises its elected officials, and really anything or anyone associated with Washington, perhaps it’s best for the people who work for our constitutional officers to suggest they’re more interested in fashioning solutions than one-liners.  

It reminds me of that line from “Fight Club,” delivered by Brad Pitt to Ed Norton: “I get it. That’s clever. How’s that working out for you … being clever?”  

No one ever passed a law with a sharp rejoinder.  

I’m not sure how clever, snarky exchanges ever contribute positively to any professional relationship, much less the one between a president of one party and a speaker of the other. I would tend to think they’d have the opposite effect.  

And if the people making policy don’t treat the subject matter seriously, why should anyone else?  

So, if you work in Congress or the White House and you’re tempted to take a shot at someone else in the public arena — to show everyone how clever you are and what an easy mark they are — stop. That doesn’t add anything to the debate, and it makes it look like our government is run by people who are mostly interested in scoring rhetorical political points.  

The American public already holds that view of Washington. There’s no need to reinforce it.  



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