December 26, 2000
2:09 AM   Subscribe

This confirms suspicions I've had about "Mr. America Inc." The line between government and the corporate/entertainment-whatever blurs further. Is this a new kind of coup? What lines are being drawn (or erased) here?
posted by aflakete (10 comments total)
No, I disagree. This is the natural progression. Personally, I think the same thing would've happened with the Gore administration-- it just wouldn't have been as obvious
posted by tj at 8:08 AM on December 26, 2000

Actually, I think there's a lot of sense in splitting those responsibilities that way. I just don't think I'd pick *those* two guys to do it.

Hope K-R gets their count done before the 6th. :-)
posted by baylink at 8:31 AM on December 26, 2000

I must admit that I like the Bush team's clear focus on high-level executive experience, in government and private industry ... Clinton began his first term with a team which by and large had never had any major bottom-line responsibility, and had some pretty apallingly poor results.
posted by MattD at 9:02 AM on December 26, 2000

I must admit that I like the Bush team's clear focus on high-level executive experience, in government and private industry ...

Yeah, but that partly assumes that the business of government is exactly the same as the business of business. (I could quote the Bushism on the role of taxes, but shan't bother.) And, as the shambolic state of some public-private partnerships in Britain has shown, that's not really true. To have Railtrack's board (the track and station management company for Britain's railways) containing precisely two people with experience of the engineering side of the railways, and twelve drafted from management consultancies and other city professions has led to precisely the situation we have now: a company with a glutted management, starved on technical expertise.

Yes, it's important to have people in charge who are used to having the buck stop with them, but it's also vital to have people there who think in terms of ten-year-plans (though not in a Stalinist sense) rather than quarterly flammage to analysts. And, since there's likely to be a lot of horse-trading going on, it'll be necessary to retain staff who know how to work the departments.

(Could someone clarify for me the way that Federal appointments work in transition periods? Here, the Civil Service people simply prepare new briefs -- well in advance, oftentimes -- for the incoming ministers, based on their manifestos. In the US, it appears that there's a far greater turnover of staff, as Cabinet members bring in their own teams?)

Oh, a historical thought: many early 19th-c presidents, from my limited knowledge, were not much more than ceremonial rubber-stampers for Congress, yes?
posted by holgate at 9:47 AM on December 26, 2000

Strong government- and education-sector executive experience is actually the rule in Bush appointments, not the exception:

Colin Powell: head of the entire US military for 4 years
Condoleeza Rice: provost of Stanford University for 6 years
John Ashcroft: Governor of Missouri for 10 years (I think)
Tommy Thomapson: Governor of Wisconsin for 18 years
Christine Whitman: Governor of New Jersey for 7 years.

Holgate, to answer the broader regarding transitions, there are thousands of "political" appointments in the executive branch. The large White House staff turns over, and as many as several hundred senior posts in each of more than 30 departments and agencies. The most senior political posts also carry a raft of junior "confidential" and "special assistant" posts which are directly appointed from younger politically-connected people rather than from the civil service. There are also a very large number of "independent" agencies (like the SEC, the Federal Reserve, the FCC, etc.), which are directly run by the President but which are run by Boards appointed by the President politically -- and who also have a small senior staff which is subject to discretionary appointment by the Board, rather than through civil service seniority.

Military, intelligence, diplomatic, and law enforcement agencies tend to have comparatively higher degrees of professionalism -- high level staff that hold office without regard to political parties -- but their specific billets are still subject to Presidential appointment. (For example, every military appointment at or above the level of Lieutenant General or Vice Admiral -- of which there are several hundred -- is made directly by the President or his political delegates, not by the military establishment itself.)

The high concentration of policy-making and crisis management directly in the White House, rather than at the various departments and agencies (which are left to implement policices once adopted) means that there is even a smaller substantive role for the permanent civil service and the military, diplomatic and law enforcement career establishment than the Federal organization chart would indicate, since the White House has essentially no permanent civil service at the professional, advisory or managerial level.

It is certainly not correct to say that the early-19th-century Presidents were rubber stamps for Congress. Congress had a much more abbreviated session than it does now (partially because of distances required to travel). Presidents firmly commanded foreign policy, military, trade, and colonial / Indian / expansion -- and these sectors were a very large portion of the meaningful agenda of the US federal government. (At the time, the US federal government left almost all the matters over which the Congress has current-day suzeraintity, like economic and public welfare matters, to the exclusive management of the state governments.)
posted by MattD at 11:02 AM on December 26, 2000

Thanks for the extensive clarification on both counts. It raises a further question, though, that I'll try to answer for myself: how does the relationship between partisan/non-partisan appointments compare to other central bureaucracies, in terms of size and deployment?

It's a running joke of British (and European) government that the real power is wielded by the permanent civil service: there's "Yes Minister", and the true story of how it took 20-odd years to get the Ministry of Finance in Paris to move out of their offices in the Richlieu wing of the Louvre, so that the museum could be expanded.

To some extent, though, this security of employment guarantees a continuity of general policy in spite of the revolving doors at Whitehall. Civil servants are grossly underpaid in comparison with the private sector, so it's only this security, along with the perks of govt. work, which keeps it staffed.

So, to return to the original comparison: while a corporation would undoubtedly shake up its staff if a new chief executive were brought in from outside, I doubt it'd go through such wholesale change. Isn't it a recipe for "big government", at least at the junior levels?

And apologies for my lack of knowledge of the early 19th-c presidents: there's a gap between Washington and Lincoln that the UK history syllabus tends not to fill ;)
posted by holgate at 11:23 AM on December 26, 2000

And apologies for my lack of knowledge of the early 19th-c presidents: there's a gap between Washington and Lincoln that the UK history syllabus tends not to fill ;)

Still, it's less of gap than the US history syllabus. :)
posted by JohnBigBoots at 11:40 AM on December 26, 2000

OFF TOPIC: I really like that navigation! Wow, it's about time someone tried something new.

I will be busy stealing it for the next iteration of my site. :)

posted by perplexed at 2:17 PM on December 26, 2000

The strikingly nice navigation on the new IHT site was the subject of a MeFi discussion about a month ago.
posted by MattD at 7:09 PM on December 26, 2000

(Not that everyone liked it. But I do.)

Cheney is clearly going to be COO of America Inc. I think there's a clear danger of head-butting with Card, though, and we have yet to see how the relationship with congressional leaders will pan out. It's hardly certain that this hard-and-fast management process will hold true over the next four years.

For one thing, the razor-thin majority in Congress and the weak mandate for Bush mean that defectors will have tremendous political power. We've already seen Breaux traipse down to Texas just to make the Democrats crap their shorts, and Tommy Thompson didn't ask "how high" when Bush said "jump to HHS" -- he said he wanted Transportation. Loudly.

A top-down style is clearly crucial to such a situation, so it does seem to me that people in his team were thinking ahead. But it's not going to be easy to maintain regardless. Iron discipline will be required -- and not all the stars listed will be willing to toe the line day after day.
posted by dhartung at 11:45 PM on December 26, 2000

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