Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Job Wanted: Loyal Opposition

Woo hoo! Civil Service Reform!

Via TAPPED and Ezra (sorry, Internet was down yesterday) I saw the Talking Points Memo and Washington Post articles on other Bush-n-friends cronies who are getting nominated to important government posts.

The Bush administration is seeking to appoint a lawyer with little immigration or customs experience to head the troubled law enforcement agency that handles those issues, prompting sharp criticism from some employee groups, immigration advocates and homeland security experts.
The push to appoint Julie Myers to head the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, part of the Department of Homeland Security, comes in the midst of intense debate over the qualifications of department political appointees involved in the sluggish response to Hurricane Katrina.
Concerns over Myers, 36, were acute enough at a Senate hearing last week that lawmakers asked the nominee to detail during her testimony her postings and to account for her management experience. Sen. George V. Voinovich (R-Ohio) went so far as to tell Myers that her résumé indicates she is not qualified for the job…
After working as a federal prosecutor in Brooklyn, N.Y., for two years, Myers held a variety of jobs over the past four years at the White House and at the departments of Commerce, Justice and Treasury, though none involved managing a large bureaucracy. Myers worked briefly as chief of staff to Michael Chertoff when he led the Justice Department's criminal division before he became Homeland Security secretary.
Myers also was an associate under independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr for about 16 months and has most recently served as a special assistant to President Bush handling personnel issues.
Her uncle is Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers, the departing chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. She married Chertoff's current chief of staff, John F. Wood, on Saturday.

Pretty disgusting, but also par for the course (especially at the beginning of a President’s term). But it’s a “par for the course” that’s incredibly destructive to this country and the reputation of its government. Completely political patronage to high level posts (it’s one thing to appoint a fellow party ideologue who focuses on the relevant policies, it’s another to appoint someone just because of their fund-raising expertise) has been practiced by all political parties since time immemorial, but that’s all the more reason to create institutions and democratic incentives to stop it.

If the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and the incredible incompetence of Michael Brown results in a much closer eye to the generic political appointees of every administration, then that is a far more important effect than whether Bush’s poll numbers rise or fall ten points.

It’s also a good reminder of what the Democratic party should be doing these days: loyal opposition. Now it might be hard for talking heads on Fox News to reconcile those two words, but the loyal opposition has a tremendous history and a vital role in any functioning democracy. The Democratic party doesn’t just exist right now to try to eventually get it’s policy goals enacted, or to one day regain power, but it exists to place a check on the inevitable corrupt machinations and anomalies of the current ruling party.

Unfortunately in this country, a number of institutional factors have hindered that role. The functioning of the Senate, which approves Presidential appointees, is just too weird.
-Its members are secure enough that it’s worth voting for an appointee to get the President’s favor and than risking two weeks of bad press years from an election.
-Most appointee decisions are made in committee, even farther away from the public’s eye.
-The Senate has so much business to deal with, so little staff, and is so slow and inefficient in how it deals with business, that it can hardly afford to give even routine scrutiny to every appointee.
-“Senatorial courtesy” grants a large degree of immunity to anyone who’s supported by both Senators from their state, anyone who was a former Senator, and the wishes of Committee Chairmen.
-The rights of the minority to investigate matters or propose votes are being limited by current Congressional leadership.
-And of course in its election, the Senate is the least democratic legislative body in the developed world. Add in the large degree of political comity and pork in DC which means its often awkward to call your friends and your friend’s friends “unqualified cronies”.
Now some of these factors can be fixed, and some can’t, but it’s important to keep them in mind.

Regardless, the Democratic Party certainly has a role in being a loyal opposition and has to motivation to exercise that role appropriately. What was needed was a media that gave a sh-t. If all that happens is for every single political appointee someone actually checks their resume, and tells the Washington Post if it’s a lie, the world will be much better off.


At 10:22 PM, Blogger Jeff said...

I think you make some interesting arguments regarding the particular institutional factors leading to political cronyism in Washington. However, how much is due to the particular nature of the Senate, and how much is due to the particular nature of government generally? Would a more democratic Senate, for example, really reduce the amount of cronyism? I am skeptical that it would, since political opportunism can take a myriad of different forms, and can potentially survive even thoroughly democratic processes. (Recall that "democratic" is not necessarily synonymous with "just.") IMO the only reliable way to measurably reduce political cronyism in Washington is to reduce the number of jobs available to potential cronies. But neither Democrats nor Republicans have a vested interest in doing so.

Thanks for an interesting blog!

At 10:46 PM, Blogger Rousseau said...

Indeed, some of the factors can be changed, and others can't.

One of the benefits of increased partisanship (both as we've seen over the past few years, and compared to more partisan countries) would be less willingness to let an appointee pass because he's still your friend, or is a lobbyist for someone you want to pay off - instead if representatives have the sole motive of questioning the other party, then they'll do things like check the resumes of the flunkies they hire. To the the degree that our Constitution discourages partisanship in many ways, it also encourages the creation of a large political class that cares more about supporting itself than fighting for ideology.

Anyway, less abstractly, less arcane governmental structures would certainly increase the amount of pork and cronies handed out. If powerful person is going to get jobs for ten of their closest friends, then at the least I'd rather there be one powerful person than a hundred or more.

And Robert Mugabe agrees with me. Although in an evil way of course.


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