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New York Times worried by Ken Salazar's niceness

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If you, like me, stepped out of the media bubble over the holidays, you may well have missed a curious New York Times editorial about Obama-cabinet-bound Colorado senator Ken Salazar, published under an unusual headline: "Is Ken Salazar Too Nice?"

Too bad the answers provided by the piece aren't as straightforward as this rhetorical question.

According to the item, "Conservationists and pretty much everyone else exhausted by the Bush administration's ideological rigidity and deference to commercial interests have welcomed" the appointment of Salazar, who's characterized as being "friendly, approachable, a good listener, a genial compromiser and a skillful broker of deals." Salazar hasn't been greeted by universal acclaim, however. As noted in the December 17 blog "Environmental Group Rips Obama's Choice of Ken Salazar as Interior Secretary," organizations such as Tucson's Center for Biological Diversity regard him as too pro-industry.

The Times scribes don't directly charge Salazar with the same weakness, but they seem to fear it. "What the Interior Department needs right now is someone willing to bust heads when necessary and draw the line against the powerful commercial groups -- developers, ranchers, oil and gas companies, the off-road vehicle industry -- that have long treated the department as a public extension of their private interests," the op-ed argues. For that reason, Salazar should "stay far away" from naming anyone to his staff "from the lobbying groups and businesses that his department is sworn to regulate and avoid think tanks with extreme ideologies" unlike one of his predecessors, fellow Coloradan Gale Norton. Instead, "he should surround himself with a core group of dedicated, quality people, and remember that being nice to everyone won't cut it."

In other words, the Times doesn't mind if Salazar is polite on a personal level as long as he chooses staffers willing to break the right legs, so to speak. That's a nice way to put it, anyway. -- Michael Roberts

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