[Viewpoint]A president reaps the wages of cronyismSoon after George W. Bush was inaugurated as United States president in January 2001, Robert E. Moffitt of the Heritage Foundation, a think-tank and mouthpiece of the Republican Party, published a report titled “Taking Charge of Federal Personnel,” and passed it around the Bush administration. In the report, Mr. Moffit, a well-known hard-line neo-conservative who had served as a high ranking personnel management official under Ronald Reagan, gave the following advice:
“The president should consider loyalty foremost when appointing personnel. Expertise comes next. Appointing a person to a high-ranking federal position based on expertise could be a disaster for the administration.”
There is no way of knowing how much of this President Bush took to heart, but his federal appointments corresponded with Mr. Moffitt’s advice. President Bush thoroughly took into account whether a person was on his side or not when filling key federal positions. The White House said it “employs personnel with a combination of loyalty and abilities,” but this was not actually the case. A succession of incapable people with no experience or specialized knowledge rode to the top on a “chair of flowers” because they were close to the president. More than a few times these people have brought disaster to the administration.
Michael Brown is one of those people. As the director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency when the giant Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans and surrounding areas in August 2005, he and the agency were in a state of disorder. Only after five hours after Katrina hit did he call the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to ask for the dispatch of relief goods and rescue workers. When Chicago city authorities said they would send support personnel and goods, he said only one truckload would be necessary. Yet President Bush praised him, saying Brown was doing “a heck of a job.”
It emerged later that he had no emergency management experience before joining the agency. His special field as an attorney was horse-related lawsuits. He was the chairman of the Arabian Horses Association before assuming the highest post in the federal agency, a completely different world. His appointment was Bush’s expression of gratitude for Brown’s help during the election campaign.
Bush was harshly criticized because of Brown, who piled man-made disaster on top of the natural disaster. Yet he did not discard cronyism. Complaints were running high against Brown in September 2005, but Bush boldly nominated White House counsel Harriet Ellan Myers for Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court ― despite the fact that she had no experience as a judge. He was doing a favor to one of his staunch supporters from Texas, but the adverse wind was much stronger than expected. There was criticism even from the Republican Party, calling it “a shameless nomination.” Miers withdrew after 20 days when she realized it would not be possible for her to get confirmation from the Senate.
An even more infamous figure than Brown or Miers is Alberto R. Gonzales, the current U.S. attorney general. He is under criticism in connection with the dismissal of eight U.S. federal attorneys, who were critical to the Republican Party, last year. In addition to suspicions that the dismissal had to do with hidden political motives, it was revealed that Gonzales’ statement that he was not directly involved was not true.
Even within the Republican Party, voices demanding that Bush reshuffle his staff are getting louder each day. Yet President Bush, who appointed Gonzales, a man with no prior prosecution experience, as attorney general of the United States, is not listening at all. He said he still has full confidence in Gonzales, who had assisted him since he was the governor of Texas.
Bush had taken full advantage of cronyism. However, his indulgence in it has brought grave consequences for him. As more and more people are getting tired of his personnel management style and turn their backs on him, Bush is getting even more isolated from the people. Robert Novak, a well-known American journalist who is well-connected to sources in the Republican Party, recently came out with a column titled, “A President All Alone,” which was carried by the Washington Post and other papers in the United States. He wrote, “In half a century, I have not seen a president so isolated from his own party in Congress ― not Jimmy Carter, not even Richard Nixon as he faced impeachment.”
President Bush is facing hard times right now. Whatever he tries to do seems to fail. The Democratic Party, which occupies a majority of seats in Congress currently, applies the brake on almost everything he does. And some of his Republican Party members keep their distance from him while others stand on the side of the Democrats. Nothing is being done, and everything is failing to be done. Today Bush is not much different from a family patriarch who has made a mess of his entire household affairs from relying too much on bad feng-shui.
*The writer is a Washington correspondent of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Lee Sang-il