I still do not know whom I will vote for as president. That’s because what I wish to know, candidates will not tell me — whom they’ll appoint to office. It is through appointments to judgeships, cabinet posts and other executive branch positions that presidents implement their policies and impress their will upon government and therefore the governed.
Alan Pergament of The Buffalo News, in his review of PBS’ “Bush’s War,” said it well:
At a time in which America is preparing to elect a new president to deal with Bush’s war, it reminded me of something I learned from my college courses in political science: It doesn’t so much matter who becomes president as it matters whom he or she chooses to put in his or her Cabinet. [emphasis added]
Sage advice, but Mr. Pergament didn’t take the notion far enough. The U.S. Constitution, Article II, section 2, clause 2, says:
The president shall nominate, and by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, shall appoint Ambassadors, other public Ministers and Consuls, Judges of the supreme Court, and all other Officers of the United States …[emphasis added]
Under that authority, President Bush has made more than 1,600 nominations for executive branch positions and federal judgeships, according to an S&R review of White House records.
Nominations to the Supreme Court obviously receive extraordinary attention by the press and the public because the men and women who receive those appointments, after confirmation by the Senate, have a lifetime sinecure.
But what about the nearly 350 other judicial nominations White House records say have been made by President Bush? That has allowed the president to create a conservative judiciary more to his liking (just as Democratic presidents have used the power of appointment to create a liberal judiciary more to their liking).
Whom presidential candidates would appoint to important government posts should concern voters because of two factors: cronyism and competence.
Only the politically naive believe that the best man or woman gets the job. Presidents have used appointment power for centuries to reward those who have helped them achieve their high office. These days, presidential appointments have especially been used to reward those who fund campaigns that place a president in office. Those are patronage appointments.
As an S&R review of records of the office of the U.S. Senate historian showed last year:
During the presidency of George W. Bush, nearly four out of every 10 of his nominees for ambassador have been non-career appointees or what many would consider political appointees. Neither his father nor President Clinton had such a high percentage.
President Bush’s 36 percent rate exceeds the 29 percent of President Clinton’s ambassadorial nominees who were non-career appointees. During George Herbert Walker Bush’s presidency, about 31 percent were non-career appointees.
Many of President Bush’s ambassadorial nominations have gone to Bush Pioneers, Rangers and Super Rangers who had bundled funding for his campaigns of $100,000, $200,000 and $300,000, respectively.
A presidential appointment to an executive branch position is no guarantee that the public is getting its tax dollars’ worth. If cronyism trumps competence, the public gets a director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency who was dismissed from his previous job as the judges and stewards commissioner for the International Arabian Horse Association.
Patronage provides taxpayers with a commissioner of the Consumer Product Safety Commission who opposed a bill that would double her agency’s budget over the next seven years to more than $141 million a year. This is the same acting chairwoman, Nancy Nord, whom House Speaker Nancy Pelosi accused of being too cozy with the industries her agency regulates.
That is thematic and problematic. Congress makes laws. But presidents appoint the regulators who actually write the policies that implement those laws. While Democratic presidents have had controversies with regulators being too close to the regulated, President Bush’s appointments have been particularly noteworthy as pals of industry.
Think lead toys and China. Miners killed in mine cave-ins. Cutbacks in EPA enforcement actions. Pharmaceuticals whose side effects have killed people despite FDA approval of the drugs.
President Bush’s regulators have loosened the reins on corporations and failed too many times to protect the public’s health and interests. This was all done with the power of presidential appointments. True, most presidential appointments require confirmation by the Senate, part of the American system of checks and balances in government. That hasn’t always work well, it seems. Perhaps too many senators were too busy running for president?
We’re down to Sens. John McCain, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama as significant presidential candidates. But I don’t read or see much press coverage pertaining to these questions:
“Sen. Clinton, what would be the appropriate background for someone you’d consider appointing to a position requiring regulation of the finance, investments and securities industries?”
“Sen. McCain, as you know, President Bush removed the American Bar Association from its position of ranking candidates for judgeships and replaced it with the conservative Federalist Society. Would you restore the bar association to its previous non-partisan prominence?”
“Sen. Obama, whom would you appoint in your transition team to oversee the process of recruiting, selecting and vetting candidates for executive branch positions below the Cabinet level?”
Of course, the candidates are not likely to answer these questions. But I’d bet the farm on this:
Look at who surrounds a candidate. And for how long. Whom does the candidate rely on for advice? Who has fallen on his or her sword for the candidate? Who has given the candidate boatloads of money and for how long? That’s where your next administration is coming from.
When the flag wavers and breast beaters of any of these three candidates erupt in sloganeering, ask them about whom their candidates will appoint to what offices and why.
President Bush leaves office in January. The next administration steps in. Your next government — and its impact for good and bad on our lives and livelihoods — is likely to depend on about 2,000 men and women we’ve never heard of appointed and confirmed to government posts we’ve never heard of.