During the fun-filled days of the House Un-American Activities Committee and Senator Joe McCarthy the standard question was: Are you now, or have you ever been, a member of the Communist Party?
Never mind that the Constitution protects the freedom of speech and "the right of the people peaceably to assemble" in the First Amendment and forbids the government from forcing a person to "be a witness against himself" in the Fifth Amendment, the "Red Scare" of the 1950's was real and real Americans turned a blind eye to the use of subpoenas to compel testimony against one's self, family, and associates.
The New York Times had a front-pager yesterday, about the questionnaire potential appointees are being required to fill out to see if they pass political muster, much less pass a FBI or Secret Service background investigation.
If this were an incoming Republican Administration, I guarantee you the name "McCarthy" would be on every front page in the nation in describing it.
I will tell you that I couldn't fill out this form if I wanted to, and even if I could, I wouldn't.
The very first question requires you to submit "all resumes or biographical statements" you've put out in the past 10 years. Who keeps those things?
Question four requires that you
"chronologically list activities … from which you have derived earned income (e.g. self-employment, consulting activities, writing, speaking, royalties and honoraria) for the past ten years."
Are they kidding? Go back 10 years and reconstruct every speaking fee, every project, every consulting gig? Right.
Question eight: "Briefly describe any controversial matters you have been involved with during the course of your career."
What constitutes "a controversial matter?" And who is the Obama transition team "controversial matter" maven?
Question 10: "List and, if readily available, provide a copy of each book, article, column or publication … you have authored"
The problem with this one is it appears to be potentially a First Amendment issue. The Obama transition team must have not just a controversial matter maven, but a Democratic Orthodoxy referee.
Question 13 requests a copy of every e-mail, text message or instant message which "might be a cause for embarrassment for you, your family or the President-elect if made public."
Are you kidding me? Who HASN'T sent an e-mail, text message or instant message which "might be a cause for embarrassment?" In the past week!
It goes on and on in that vein including requiring a list of anyone you have ever had a close enough relationship with to be considered a "cohabitant."
Moved in? 'Fess up.
The problem with all of this intrusion is it will cause otherwise highly-qualified people to throw their hands up in frustration, disgust or both and say, "You know what? I have not been in a monastery since puberty and I don't want some 23-year-old volunteer reading - and probably sharing with her new colleagues in the back bar at the Old Ebbit - my deepest and darkest secrets. I'll just stay here at the law firm in Nashville" or wherever.
The Obama transition team, by trying to protect itself against any potentially difficult press inquiry, is probably sentencing the Obama Administration to a pool of potential hires for whom mediocrity is the norm.
Really smart people, really creative people, really driven people - exactly the kinds of people you want to attract to your team - are not going to take this test, much less pass this test.
The final question is the most insidious: "Provide any other information, including information about other members of your family, that could … be a possible source of embarrassment to you, your family or the President-elect."
Who doesn't have someone in their family who doesn't embarrass the rest of the family by simply being a member of their family?
I know that in my family we have such a person.