More sour grapes

It isn’t just the hard left that’s beside itself over President Bush’s re-election; Andrew Sullivan isn’t taking it well either. He vents his displeasure by joining the chorus criticizing Bush for appointing to key positions people who share the president’s philosophy and hold his trust. Sullivan’s use of words like “toady” and “flunky” to describe these appointments reveals the vindictive nature of his piece. One can’t help believe that these characterizations have more to do with Bush’s support of a constitutional amendment against gay marriage than with a good faith assessment of the people in question.
It seems self-evident that important positions in a president’s administration should be held by people who agree with the president’s philosophy. And it’s difficult to understand why the fact that the president knows an individual well constitutes a negative factor. The argument advanced by Sullivan and others is that such individuals will be “yes” men and women, who will fail to offer a dissenting point of view. This argument overlooks the distinction between agreeing with the president’s general philosophy and agreeing with the president on all questions of how that philosophy should apply in a given instance. There is nothing to be gained by having advisers and cabinet officers who don’t share the president’s philosophy. Such people cannot even provide meaningful dissent because their views will (and should) be dismissed out-of-hand as emanating from faulty principles (and principles rejected by a majority of the voters). At the same time, it is important to have advisers and cabinet officers who will offer independent judgments about how agreed upon principles should apply in a given case. But Sullivan offers no evidence that the recent Bush appointees will fail to provide such judgments. Similarly, he offers no evidence that Bush has even formulated specific answers to the big impending questions — e.g., how to proceed in the Middle East now that Arafat is gone or what exactly to do about Iran’s ongoing weapons program — that Condi Rice (for example) will be expected to say “yes” to. More likely, Rice and other core members of the presdent’s various policy teams will be expected apply Bush’s general philosophy to the latest issues and present their recommendations to the president. There is no reason to assume that this process will result in the consideration of only one option per issue.
Of course, this process works well only to the extent that the president’s advisers are well-qualified for their positions. Sullivan suggests that, in general, they are not. He relies in part on catty gossip — Karl Rove once asked the new Secretary of Education for a date; Rice isn’t married and once supposedly referred to Bush as her husband — and in part on the claim that several of these people have had no career outside of Bush’s orbit. In truth, two of the three recent key Bush appointees — Rice and Porter Goss — have had substantial careers independent of Bush. The third, Alberto Gonzales, is qualified to be Attorney General by virtue of his service on the Texas Supreme Court and as White House counsel (compare him to Janet Reno who was elevated to Attorney General based on her career as a Florida prosecutor and the fact that she had no nanny problem). It is true that Bush awarded Gonzales both posts. But if the issue is competence, then the experience, not how it came to be acquired, should be what counts.
In reality, the issue is neither competence nor the need for diversity of opinion. The issue is the anger and resentment of those who wanted to see President Bush defeated.


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