In Obama’s second term, Eric Holder is a holdover, according to Ben Smith at Buzzfeed, who calls Holder Obama’s “heat shield.
The reason he stays, despite his unpopularity? Holder (like Obama) is a completely political animal, and is Obama’s man:
In choosing Holder, a well-respected but low-profile Washington lawyer and former Deputy Attorney General who joined his presidential campaign early, Obama chose trust over symbolism. The Attorney General wields immense and independent power. A high-profile political figure chosen, like most Cabinet secretaries, for traditional reasons of politics, may act independently and do the president real harm…[Holder] carries no brief for Obama’s staff, and has clashed with the likes of David Axelrod and Rahm Emanuel. But he is extremely close to the president.
…Holder lacks the independence of Bush A.G. John Ashcroft and the professionalism of Holder’s immediate predecessor, former federal judge Michael Mukasey. “Holder is and remains very much about politics.”…
And those politics are exactly and precisely whatever Obama wants them to be.
This is something my gut told me a long time ago (if you want to read the whole thing, it’s still pretty apropos). I’ll repeat here what I wrote then:
So I would like to clarify: by using the word “proxy” in Holder’s case, I meant something different than the usual Cabinet appointee, the usual presidential representative. I could be wrong about this, but my gut senses a close identification between Obama and Holder, an almost-Vulcan-mind-meld between them on the legal issues involved in fighting terrorism. This is not a compliment to either man; I think both are sadly misguided.
Holder serves a purpose for Obama. If there is an issue on which the President is somewhat loathe to express his opinion fully, perhaps because he knows it will be unpopular or controversial, I believe that Obama purposely uses Holder as cover, to draw the opposition’s criticism and deflect it from himself.
That’s that “heat shield” thing that Smith is talking about when he writes:
“One thing that people never understood about Holder’s importance in this administration is how he has absorbed so many attacks that could otherwise land in the White House,” said one former administration official who admires the Attorney General…
“He’s got the scars to show for it, but it’s better to have a Cabinet official take those hits than have them land on the president. After all, the Attorney General’s not on the ballot,” the former official said…
“President Obama probably could not have found a more pliant attorney general,” said Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton, who accused Holder of looking the other way on Administration scandals.
[NOTE: Obama’s Cabinet as a whole is shaping up about as expected, isn’t it? Jonah Goldberg has a good word (actually, two) for at least part of what motivates Obama when he nominated Hagel: spite, and pettiness. Obama is actually the first president I can personally remember to whom I’d say those two words apply. Perhaps Nixon, in some sense, at least privately—but not in his public moves, such as his Cabinet appointments.]