Clicking on banner ads enables JWR to constantly improve
Jewish World Review Jan. 16, 2001 / 21 Teves 5761

Philip Terzian

JWR's Pundits
World Editorial
Cartoon Showcase

Mallard Fillmore

Michael Barone
Mona Charen
Linda Chavez
Ann Coulter
Greg Crosby
Larry Elder
Don Feder
Suzanne Fields
James Glassman
Paul Greenberg
Bob Greene
Betsy Hart
Nat Hentoff
David Horowitz
Marianne Jennings
Michael Kelly
Mort Kondracke
Ch. Krauthammer
Lawrence Kudlow
Dr. Laura
John Leo
David Limbaugh
Michelle Malkin
Jackie Mason
Michael Medved
Kathleen Parker
Wes Pruden
Sam Schulman
Amity Shlaes
Roger Simon
Tony Snow
Thomas Sowell
Cal Thomas
Jonathan S. Tobin
Ben Wattenberg
George Will
Bruce Williams
Walter Williams
Mort Zuckerman

Consumer Reports

Take this job and ... -- AS LINDA CHAVEZ, John Ashcroft and Gale Norton can attest, presidential appointments are mixed blessings at best.

Linda Chavez, whose habit of offering shelter and assistance to immigrants in need has been characterized as "exploitative," and routinely described as a violation of law, was forced to withdraw her nomination to be secretary of labor. The same left-wing coalition which assembled a dozen years ago to destroy Judge Robert Bork, is now advertising Attorney General-designate John Ashcroft as everything from a racist -- he paid a compliment to Harry Truman's great hero, Gen. Robert E. Lee -- to a sworn enemy of women and children. Gale Norton, who once explained that the post-Civil War amendments to the Constitution expanded federal power at the expense of the states (yielding unintended consequences) is now daily denounced as a proponent of slavery.

Whether Ashcroft and Norton will survive these assaults, I cannot say. Their detractors have two important advantages: The media is firmly in the anti-Ashcroft/Norton camp, and tradition demands that the victims of such public campaigns refrain from answering their critics. So stay on the lookout for more gotcha stories in the press about Gale Norton -- her great-great-great grandfather may well have served in the Confederate Army -- and solemn expressions of concern about John Ashcroft's religious beliefs. Thus far, it has not been learned whether Mrs. Norton accumulated parking tickets in the 1970s, or Senator Ashcroft got any Bs and Cs while a student at Yale, but we'll soon find out.

The casual observer of this carnivorous process may look at the spectacle and ask an obvious question: Is appointive public service worth the trouble of crossing the threshold? For mst senior government officials, the answer is yes: Public service is an honor and privilege, and many describe their tenure in Washington as the zenith of their careers. But for many others, especially in the business world, the publicized examples of Judges Bork and Clarence Thomas, or Senator Ashcroft, serve as a warning signal: It's an honor and privilege to be asked; but in the long run, who would willingly submit themselves to such indignities?

That is a matter of increasing concern in Washington, and prompted the Brookings Institution to establish a project called the Presidential Appointee Initiative, funded by the Pew Charitable Trusts, under the direction of political scientist Paul Light. It's a fine, well-intentioned, idea. First, a hefty volume was produced called A Survivor's Guide for Presidential Nominees, which explains in painstaking detail what is expected, and what will happen, when the President solicits your service. Then it assembled a bipartisan council to examine the federal appointment process, identify problems, and recommend reforms for Congress to consider.

It is impossible to overstate the intrusive and needlessly exhaustive nature of clearance procedures. In a blizzard of obnoxious and bewildering federal forms, nominees must not only account for their every moment of action since the age of 18 -- schools attended, prescription drugs ingested, where they traveled, what they earned, where they lived, who they spoke to, what they wrote, joined, invested, etc. -- but must furnish voluminous information for extensive background checks. At the end of the road, the FBI will know more about you than they you know about yourself.

To what end? If the purpose of such investigations is to identify "security risks," they have passed by more than a few while subjecting innocent citizens to rancorous cop procedures. The United States is surely the only major democracy which exposes its volunteers for public service to public mistreatment. In Britain, where he transition from one government to another takes 24 hours, there is nothing remotely like our form of civic torture. So if the Presidential Appointee Initiative manages to streamline the process, and persuade Congress to forego these favored mountains of trivia, it will have done some good.

But there is more to the problem than bloated forms and gratuitous inquiries; it is the poisonous political atmosphere that surrounds the appointment process. I presume that Gale Norton has led a relatively blameless life: No inflated resume, no arrests for mail fraud, no allegations that she directed state business to her cousin, no travels to Baghdad to peddle nuclear weaponry. But that will not prevent her adversaries from assassinating her character: Finding neighbors who didn't like her, and old boyfriends she jilted -- or digging up remarks on the subject of federalism that will lead to accusations she's a closet segregationist. The "war room" virus that infected the Clinton White House -- contending with opponents by impugning their motives -- is alive and well. And I'm not sure good intentions will guarantee a cure.

JWR contributor Philip Terzian is associate editor of The Providence Journal. Comment by clicking here.


01/09/01: Washed in the blood
01/04/01: Up for the count
12/26/00: Remembering Comet Lindsay
12/20/00: Cooling down
12/18/00: Presidential legacies are not so obvious to contemporaries
12/13/00: Cops and soccer moms
12/11/00: The 'Net horrifies Stephen King
12/04/00: Downey behind bars
11/29/00: By any means necessary
11/16/00: Government sanctioned historical revisionism?
11/10/00: Breaking news: They don't know
11/09/00: Steve Allen: Smart TV
11/07/00: The November surprise
11/01/00: Take the Lieberman test
10/30/00: P.S. Don't tell Congress!
10/25/00: The election is close, but ...
10/23/00: King or jester?
10/19/00: The Million T-Shirt March
10/16/00: I like (fill in the blank)
10/12/00: Now comes the hard part
10/05/00: Good show, bad sports
10/02/00: It's a wonderful life?
09/28/00: Driving on America's Main Street
09/22/00: Preparing for a new administration
09/20/00: They've got a secret
09/18/00: Today, Dr. Laura. Tomorrow ...
09/12/00: What passes for knowledge
09/05/00: The catcher gets caught
08/31/00: A Golden Age that never was
08/28/00: Blame communism, not Russia
08/24/00: Social progress on one front, regression on the other
08/21/00: The beat goes awry
08/17/00: The unwelcome democrat

© 2001, The Providence Journal