He has done nothing wrong.
- President George Bush on Alberto Gonzales, as reported by a Yahoo!/AP article, May 21, 2007
You would think that competence would rise above partisanship. But if you are talking about President Bush, you would be wrong.
Buried at the heart of the disaster that has been the Bush presidency is a fundamental way of doing business that differs from all of Bush's recent predecessors, regardless of party affiliation. It's a no-brainer that a Republican President will appoint conservatives to office, while a Democratic President will look for more liberal candidates. That's fine. But, until this President, both sides looked for candidates that were qualified.
President Bush, on the other hand, puts cronyism ahead of competency. He judges his candidates for appointment not on whether they have the skills and experience to do their jobs, but rather if they will be loyal to the White House, keep their mouths shut, and carry out the administration's policies, regardless of their job descriptions or responsibilities to the American people and the Constitution. That's why cronies score higher than unknowns with skill and experience.
It wasn't always like that.
For example, Robert H. Bork was appointed by President Ronald Reagan in 1987 to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court, but the Senate did not confirm him. Bork was conservative and an advocate of an "original intent" approach to applying the Constitution, an approach that severely limited the protections afforded by the document. A majority of Senators found his judicial philosophy odious, and Bork was blocked from taking his seat on the nation's highest court.
But, nobody claimed that Bork was not competent. Before he was nominated, he had served as Solicitor General, Acting Attorney General (he was the one during the "Saturday Night Massacre" who finally heeded President Richard Nixon's demand to fire Watergate Special Prosecutor Archibald Cox after Attorney General Elliot Richardson and Deputy Attorney General William Ruckelshaus refused to do so and resigned), and a judge on the powerful U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. He earned his law degree at the prestigious University of Chicago School of Law.
Compare Bork's record to the one sported by one of President Bush's Supreme Court nominees, Harriet Miers. She received her law degree from Southern Methodist University, nothing to be ashamed of, but not an institution noted for Constitutional scholarship. She spent virtually her entire career until she went to work for Bush when he was elected President at a Dallas law firm as a commercial litigator. Again, nothing to be ashamed of, but not the background that would qualify someone to sit on the U.S. Supreme Court where one is expected to have substantial experience with, and knowledge of, Constitutional law issues. However, as part of Bush's crew of loyal Texans, he thought she should be a justice. The way baseball owners hire their kids and buddies to executive positions, Bush acts like he thinks he is still the owner of the Texas Rangers, and government offices are there for his buddies to fill.
Even in a Senate controlled by Republicans, Miers's nomination was so inappropriate she was forced to withdraw herself from consideration when the level of opposition to her appointment became clear.
Miers was far from the only Bush choice of cronyism over competency. Rather, it has been the norm in this White House. The administration is littered with officials who were qualified only because they were from Texas, or they were affiliated with the right religious leader. (An April blog entry of mine discussed the competence issue, specifically regarding Monica Goodling serving as the number three person at the Justice Department without any prosecutorial experience, but she did graduate from Pat Robertson's Messiah College.)
Despite Bush's expression of confidence in Alberto Gonzales, he is one of the few people who think he should remain as Attorney General. Republicans rubber-stamped his appointment by Bush even though Gonzales, too, seemed only to be qualified based on his membership in Bush's Texas cronies club.
And, Bush has not learned. Even after watching the American people hand Congress over to the control of the Democrats, Bush keeps appointing cronies. Today, according to a Yahoo!/AP article, his nominee to run the Consumer Product Safety Commission, Michael Baroody, was forced to withdraw his nomination in the face of protests from Senate Democrats. Why were they upset? It seems that Mr. Baroody, according to a Yahoo!/AP article, is a lobbyist for the National Association of Manufacturers, pursued anti-consumer policies, and was set to receive a $150,000 payment from the group before he headed off to government service.
So, let's get this straight: Bush appointed a man whose job has been to get around consumer protection rules, and who will be paid a lot of money by the main group who doesn't want consumer protection rules enforced, to enforce consumer protection rules. This is the proverbial wolf guarding the henhouse. Of course, Bush doesn't see it that way, with a White House spokesperson saying in the Yahoo!/AP article, that it's "unfortunate" that the Democratic Senators are judging Baroody "by press reports instead of personal conversations." What could he say? That he wasn't a lobbyist for the National Association of Manufacturers? That he didn't work against consumer interests? That he wasn't set to receive $150,000? That he's a new man?
What really is irking Bush is that when the Republicans controlled Congress, he was allowed, as a matter of course, to appoint wolves to watch the federal government's henhouses. You know, like having the Vice President put together a task force to determine energy policy, but conveniently leaving out that the energy companies, including Enron, made up the members of the task force. (Sourcewatch.org Article) Or, the way Christine Todd Whitman decided to leave as head of the Environmental Protection Agency after being prevented from actually trying to protect the environment (Here is one of many articles on the topic.)
But now, with the Democrats controlling the Senate, Bush can no longer just slide a crony or an industry tool into office. With all the "bigger" stories out there (the Iraq funding bill, rocketing gas prices, Paris Hilton's impending incarceration), the Baroody story seems to be off the media's radar, save for a quick mention.
To me, the story is important because it stands as a symbolic changing of the guard. The Democrats, who need some positive press after surrendering on the Iraq war funding legislation battle, acted to stop the White House from putting yet another crony into office. Hopefully, they will continue to stand firm and bat incompetent appointees back into the administration's lap. Bush can keep offering as much blind, idiotic support for Alberto Gonzales as he wants. The job of the Democrats is to keep the next Gonzales-like appointment from being confirmed.