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All The President's Flunkies
Jacob Weisberg on George Bush's federal job appointments:

Bush is often charged with undermining federal workers by politicizing what are supposed to be objective and analytic functions. He has done this, among other places, at the CIA, the FDA, and NASA, where a 24-year-old college dropout was until recently in a position to order senior officials to make references to the Big Bang compatible with the possibility of "intelligent design." Politics per se, however, is not the enemy of effective public-sector management. Those presidents who have run the federal government most effectively—I would cite FDR, JFK, and Clinton—have balanced their policy wonks with capable hacks while cultivating youthful idealism and more positive feelings about public service. Politics, more than money, is what creates accountability and motivates performance in the executive branch. But for the government to work, the hacks have to be fundamentally competent. Former FEMA Director James Lee Witt was a Clinton buddy from Arkansas, just as Michael Brown was a Bush crony. But unlike Heckuvajob Brownie, Witt knew how to run the agency in a way that would make his boss look good to voters.

Bush's stated management model—appointing good people, delegating authority to them, and holding them accountable for results—reflects some common-sense notions he picked up at Harvard Business School. His actual management practice, however, has not followed that model. In practice, Bush tends to appoint mediocre people he trusts to be loyal, delegates hardly any decision-making power to anyone beyond a few top aides, and seldom holds anyone accountable. These failures are related. If you don't give people real authority, you can't reasonably hold them responsible for what follows. What has grown up around the president as a result is not an effective political machine, but a stultifying imperial court, a hackocracy dominated by sycophants, cronies, and yes men.

Under Bush's actual management system, decision-making is concentrated in the White House political office, with Cabinet secretaries and the heads of agencies functioning as figureheads and mouthpieces. That this disempowers and often humiliates nominally top officials has not been lost on potential recruits, which is why Bush has so far been unable to persuade a top Wall Street executive to replace John Snow as treasury secretary. On Meet the Press, I recently saw one of the administration's interchangeable, largely unknown senior officials defending Bush's inconsistent position on high gas prices. Even Tim Russert, the program's hard-hitting inquisitor, seemed to take pity on this poor shill, recognizing that his role was to be a piñata for a policy he obviously had no control over. Only after some time did it dawn on me that the guest was in fact Bush's energy secretary, Samuel Bodman. I had never seen him before.

Both liberals and conservatives sometimes profess surprise that Bush, who spits out the term "bureaucrat" with as much scorn as Ronald Reagan or Newt Gingrich did, has increased government spending as a share of the U.S. economy faster than any president since Roosevelt. In fact, Bush has chosen what may be the far more effective strategy for fighting big government. Frontal attacks of the past have failed, but Bush's sabotage seems to be hitting its mark.

As I've said before, Bush is the biggest big-spending Democrat we've had in The White House for years. Of course, appointing morons comes with heavy cleanup costs.

Posted by aalkon at May 11, 2006 5:49 AM

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So Bush is getting his daily briefing on Iraq, and Rumsfeld tells him that 3 Brazilians were killed. For the first time Bush looks visibly upset, and puts his head in his hands and says "I know it's a lot, but how many is a brazilian?"

Posted by: eric at May 11, 2006 5:13 PM

That was funny!


Posted by: Crid at May 14, 2006 8:26 PM

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