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“Their secrecy is off the charts”

Submitted by Simon on Mon, 09/15/2008 - 8:30pm

The NYT continues its crusade against Governor Palin. In today's exciting episode, the Times continues building the case that if you hate Dick Cheney, you'll love to hate the even more Cheney-ish Palin.

The heart of the piece, as I see it, is the claim that "Ms. Palin runs an administration that puts a premium on loyalty and secrecy." Neither of these, I submit, is quite the slam intended. John Adams, for one, considered "secrecy and dispatch" to be "essential" to the effective operation of the executive branch, and the Federalist Papers (64 and 70) echoed him. The present administration's leakiness has been criticized, to my memory, on many occaisions.

A desire for loyalty does not call auspicious images to mind, but I want to advance a qualified defense of that hill, too. The perspective I'd offer was suggested in my post last week, Deviating from the Script. Sneer though Michael Reynolds might, it remains inaguably true that a chief executive must work through, and therefore be able to trust and rely on, her subordinates in order to function effectively. So deeply-rooted is this view that Deviating from the Script could cite a letter George Washington penned within a month of his inauguration in support of the proposition, and the reality Washington observed has only grown more acute since then.

A commenter at Althouse objected that "Palin's policy of demanding 'loyalty' from subordinates ... ensured that no subordinate would establish any policy that met with her disapproval." At first glance, that fits in well with the Palin-as-Cheney theme. But think twice: is this really an objection? At any level of government, the chief executive is the person directly responsible to voters for the policies and conduct of their administration; should we deem it a problem if a chief executive sets out to prevent her officers from enacting or running policies that she disapproves of? If so, what to make of Chevron deference, which rests in significant part on the unitary executive conception of agencies responsible to the people through the Chief Executive? (More about that here.)

With the foregoing in mind, let us suppose that Joe Bloggs is elected mayor on a platform of changing the way city business is done. He inherits the principal officers of the previous administration - officers who had essentially created and run the very policies and practices that Bloggs was elected to change. Is it not reasonable for Bloggs to say to these officers: "either resign, or stay on condition that you will implement the new administration's reforms despite any misgivings you might have"?

A mayor, no less than a Governor or a President, is judged by the electorate in significant part on whether they keep their campaign promises and implement their policies. A mayor, and a fortiori a Governor or a President, can only implement their policies (and thereby keep their promises) through the agency of their officers. This being so, I see little reason to fault the desire of a mayor1 to ensure that their staff are willing and able to enact the policies that the mayor was elected to enact. In abstracto, that is; I recognize that excessive desire for loyalty can become pathological extremely quickly. It's the pathology we're looking to prevent, however. To the extent it can help a reforming mayor - or Vice President - in more rapidly rooting out inefficies and corruption, loyalty has value. To the extent it helps maintain public control of bureacracies through the chief executive, loyalty has value. When a behavior could have either positive or negative effects as they play out, we should not write off the positives, and should judge behaviors based on whether they become pathological not whether they might.

Post facto:
Ten things that aren't changing (11/5/08)
Obama's appointments (11/21/08)

  1. 1. Or a Governor, a Vice-President or a President; after all, we're only interested in what Palin did in Wasilla to the extent it's probative of how she will approach the Vice Presidency and ultimately the top job, right?

Actually, it's almost mandatory....

Is it not reasonable for Bloggs to say to these officers: "either resign, or stay on condition that you will implement the new administration's reforms despite any misgivings you might have"?

Actually, it's almost mandatory for an executive to do that, unless they're just going to continue previous admin policies. Thus the standard request for letters of resignation from all principal officers, which resignations may or may not be used, much less used immediately.

This is why there is a reasonably bright line between career staffers and political appointees, and why principal officers are almost always political appointees. The third grouping is political appointees with fixed terms of service that overlap elections, which is designed to remove much of the politics from the process. EX: The Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, who serve 14-year terms, versus the Chairman of same, who gets a 4-year term but is still term-limited overall to 14 years. (That can be stretched by the initial appointment being to fill an unexpired/vacated seat....Greenspan did 18 years.)

surrounded by yes men is not a good idea.

That was Bush's test of loyalty. Those who disagreed, such as a slew of generals, were pushed out of the way. Hence we attack Iraq instead of pushing more troops into Afghanistan. She spends millions on an ice rink that a small town can ill afford. Where's the smart people who can say no?

The problem with yes men is that you end up like George Lucas who also is surrounded by sycophants and you get Star Wars: Episode II - Attack of the Clones. I suggest you all watch it again. Every painful minute. With the sound up. That's what Palin as VP is going to be like.

Any 'smart people' who

Any 'smart people' who opposed the sports arena in Wasilla had the opportunity to express that opposition at the ballot box, since the project was voted on as a bond issue funded by a sales tax hike.

Don't go confusing Marcus

Don't go confusing Marcus with facts, Christine. It harshes his unmellow. :-)

rink vote

Palin's endorsement, which undoubtably influenced the vote of the rink/sports complex is understandable on the gut level of having a community sports center.
Would like to see how close the vote was though.
I've been a hockey dad for a few years and can see why rinks and otehr facilities are desired. But are they real needs? I grew up in a town of 14,000.
We spent money on new fire engines. We didn't have the money to build much. Just fix up the rec center for a few hundred k or so. Or rebuild a crumbling high school.
Tully, given the finances of small towns was it sheer idiocy to start building infrastructure BEFORE TITLE WAS CLEARED regarding the property in question? To avoid costly legal entanglements? Like more than a million dollars worth?
Wasn't that part of Palin's job as an executive? Or did she have too many yes men around who also didn't think?

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