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Saturday, March 17, 2007

Non-event Consumes Washington. Meanwhile War For Civilization Continues.

Recently overheard:

Mr. Democracy: Yo! What’s the *deal* with this whole prosecutor thing back there?

Kid Various: Oh dude, you don’t even know… Everyone is totally flipped out about it. It’s sucking up all the oxygen.

Mr. Democracy: I haven’t had the time to read up on it. Can you give me the two minutes?

Kid Various: I’ll do you one better and give you the one liner. The Administration fired 8 federal prosecutors they didn’t like.

Mr. Democracy: And?

Kid Various: That’s it. 8 of the guys weren’t toeing the line and the Administration replaced them with people who were down with the program.

Mr. Democracy: Dude, you’ve worked for government. What part of “serves at the pleasure of the President” is hard to understand? Didn’t Clinton fire *all* the federal prosecutors?

Kid Various: Yeah

Mr. Democracy: So how does this possibly have legs?

Kid Various: Because, he’s Velcro, dude.

Mr. Democracy: And everything sticks…

Kid Various: SHEEYAH!

Kid Various wants to be clear on the subject of the federal prosecutor “scandal.” This is a total non-issue.

All federal prosecutors, in addition to a good number of other federal positions serve “at the pleasure of the President,” meaning he can fire them for any reason he feels like. If they prefer the color green over blue, the president can fire them for that.

And it’s all due to the brilliance of this man:

Andrew Jackson - Inventor of the spoils system and Jerry Curl!

Andrew Jackson, seventh president of the United States and inventor of what he called “rotation in government” and what we call “the spoils system.”1 When Jackson came into office, he fired 10% of the federal workforce and replaced them with political loyalists who he felt better represented his views. (Great Caesar’s ghost, if Kid Various could only fire 10% of the federal workforce!)

Despite greater consolidation towards an “independent” civil service to curb the more egregious abuses, this system has been more or less in place since that time. Over the course of every Administration, thousands of federal employees are evicted from their positions and new ones are filled by the President. The “Plum book,” which lists thousands of positions that can be directly filled by the President (and the cover of which is, appropriately, plum-coloured) is a very popular read after each change of Administration.

Political appointees reach very deep down into the layers of the American federal government, certainly further than most of the other Western powers. And that’s the way it should be! More so, Kid Various will go further and state that any job in the federal government which involves any substantial policy making element should be appointed by the chief Executive.

Disclaimer: The Kid has to take this opportunity for full disclosure. Kid Various is a card carrying member of what the media is now calling “The Hackocracy” and has got several jobs in the past that served at the pleasure of the President or Governor or whatever.

The reason you want political appointees holding deep sway over the federal (or state) government is two-fold:

First, if more government workers were dependent on the Executive for their jobs, then Kid Various wouldn’t have to bust his ass so much at election time and would have a volunteer army at his fingertips that could finally rival the Dem’s use of organized Labor. “Wow Mr. Undersecretary, a mortgage and two daughters in private school? Looks like you better get out and start distributing some lit!”

Second, and somewhat more seriously, having a government which is dominated by political appointees (at least in policy making positions) makes the government more accountable to the people – who are the source of the government’s legitimacy.

Andrew Jackson’s core insight was that he, as President, was the only official elected by all the people. He put out his plans of what he wanted to do and the people chose him over John Quincy Adams. Therefore, they had given him a mandate to shape the government by putting people into decision making positions that would make decisions in accordance with his wishes, which is what the people, at least in theory, voted for.

That fact is as relevant today as it was in 1828. The President in his campaign laid out his vision for what he wanted to do. In electing him over Sen. Kerry, the people expect him to shape the federal apparatus so it will do the things that he said that he wanted to do – instead of having a bureaucracy that will fight him. Yes, this tie to the popular will certainly is distant, but it is there. The same cannot be said of other systems.

When people clamor for an “independent” civil service, they are usually reacting to worst abuses of the spoils system. And they certainly do occur (Brownie anyone?2) However, the only alternative is adopting a European style bureaucracy that has absolutely no tie to the popular will, and thus, no opportunity for accountability.

European governments will typically have a cabinet minister who covers a certain portfolio, say labor issues, and then directly under him is the “permanent undersecretary,” a civil service employee who actually runs the department.

Governments and ministers come and go, but the “permanent undersecretary” and all the people under him remain in their positions no matter who is in charge. Thus, the permanent undersecretary and the people under him become entrenched in the government - and these people have their own values and agendas, which may not comport with the views of the current government.

These are positions of great power and the “permanent undersecretary” of Labor becomes the de facto Labor Minister. The problem is, no one elected the “permanent undersecretary!”

Way back in 2000, Kid Various was making his decision on whether to vote for Gov. Bush or Vice-President Gore. One of the factors in his decision was that he knew that a Gore Administration would be much more likely to pursue anti-trust measures against Micro$oft. Because the President is given the authority to appoint and fire federal prosecutors, a President Gore would have wide berth to reshape the Department of Justice in accordance with his values, which would have likely included being very tough on Micro$oft – which is something that is very important to The Kid.

While Kid Various eventually ended up voting for President Bush for a variety of reasons (not the least of which included job opportunities within the hackocracy) these were considerations he weighed in making his choice. Just like every American who voted.

As citizens of the United States, we make decisions on issues that affect us by voting for people we think will pursue policies that we think are important. And those people (at least in the Executive branch) can do that precisely because what Jackson called “rotation in government” prevents the entrenchment of a permanent bureaucracy that is unaccountable in any fashion to the people. (At least, as much as possible. Like The Kid said, he’d like to see more hacks in government so that the bureaucracy would be even more accountable.)

This entire "scandal" is a complete and utter travesty that is nothing more than an attempt to gain political capital against a wounded Presidency.3 Meanwhile, the War to defend civilization goes on.

1 OK, Jackson didn't "invent" the spoils system, but he did institutionalize it.

2 It's also important to remember that Brownie (as well as a lot of guys you've never heard about in the media) got fired. Would that have happened if he was a civil service employee, or would he still be there? There's a gatekeeper position in most Administrations who vets appointees, screens out the most egregious incompetents and is supposed to make sure that the applicant has at least some experience related to the job. Of course, people slip through, and those people are supposed to be "dealt with" as soon as they are identified - either fired or "eased out" as they say. The system is not perfect, but it's certainly better than an "independent" civil service where people can't be fired for anything less than a criminal conviction (and sometimes not always!)

3 Of course, as has been pointed out elsewhere, President Clinton fired all the federal prosecutors when he came into office and replaced them with his own people (save one.) And the Dems have the balls to claim that that situation was totally different as President Clinton fired everyone so he could shape the DoJ in accordance with his values while President Bush fired these 8 guys specifically for cases that they brought (or refused to bring.) Let's get this straight... President Bush would be OK if he fired everyone at the beginning for things that they may do (or not do.) But to keep everyone on board and then, as time goes on, figure out who is not implementing desired policy and getting rid of them, but keeping everyone else - that's beyond the pale!


At Monday, March 19, 2007 at 1:48:00 AM EDT, Anonymous Jim - PRS said...

Clinton made damned sure that he fired the Prosecutor in Arkansas who was dogging his and Hillary's ass. He replaced him with one of his female students.

I'm just angry that Bush/Rove/Gonzalas didn't simply tell the democrats to piss off, reminding them of the way things work for whomever is in power.


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