Balkinization  

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Further notes on our dysfunctional government

Sandy Levinson

The NYTimes has just posted a story on the appalling number of executive branch positions that remain unfilled because of the Senate's failure to confirm nominations that have been made or, in some cases, because the Administration has failed to nominate anyone at all. I don't know if this can properly be counted as more evidence of our dysfunctional constitution or not, but does it really matter? Here we are, with multiple challenges and even crises, and vital positions are unfilled. Take the job that most readers of Balkinziation are probably most familiar with, the head of the Office Legal Counsel. Obama is to be commended for nominating Dawn Johnson. He is, if not to be condemned, than at least to be severely criticized, for, so far as I can discern, exhibiting not a scintilla of backbone in trying to break the absolutely outrageous Republican hold on her nomination. (I am curious if any deals were made to get Harold Koh's confirmation by further allowing Dawn Johnson to be put on the back burner.) I find myself asking "what would George W. Bush have done," and the answer is that he would have made a recess appointment as Congress traipses off for a six-week vacation (and, of course, the Obamas are off to Martha's Vineyard). Now there are all sorts of problems with recess appointments, and I think they are generally unwise. So it's probably for the best that Obama hasn't done it. But Bush's allies would have been raising the roof, as they did with, say, John Bolton and other egregious nominees (from my point of view). Where are the liberal equivalents of the editorial page of the Wall Street Journal? Is Dawn Johnson another casualty either of the misguided search for bipartisanship in a Senate constituted, in significant measure of mad-dog Republicans, or is she simply being sacrified because of the belief that Charles Grassley (or God know whom) has to be appeased in order to pick up a Republican vote for medical reform? Eric Holder has apparently said that her confirmation is one of his "top priorities." One can only wonder what effort the Administration is putting into things that aren't at the top of its list. But the problems run far wider than simply the OLC, which is being run, I presume, by the absolutely first-rate, I-rejoice-for-the-country-that-they're-there Marty Lederman and David Barron. But consider some other examples mentioned by the author of the Times piece, Peter Baker:

The sluggish pace has kept Mr. Obama from having his own people enacting programs central to his mission. He is trying to fix the financial markets but does not have an assistant treasury secretary for financial markets. He is spending more money on transportation than anyone since Dwight D. Eisenhower but does not have his own inspector general watching how the dollars are used. He is fighting two wars but does not have an Army secretary.

He sent Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton to Africa to talk about international development but does not have anyone running the Agency for International Development. He has invited major powers to a summit on nuclear nonproliferation but does not have an assistant secretary of state for nonproliferation. He has vowed to improve government efficiency but does not
have the chief performance officer he promised.

“If you’re running G.M. without half your senior executives in place, are you worried? I’d say your stockholders would be going nuts,” said Terry Sullivan, a professor at the University of North Carolina and executive director of the White House Transition Project, which tracks appointments. “The notion of the American will — it’s not being thwarted, but it’s slow to come to fruition.”

In any case, can any reasonable person believe that we have a truly functional government, "democratic," "republican," or otherwise?



Comments:

From the NYT:

Measuring the progress in appointments depends on what positions are counted and who is doing the counting. The White House Transition Project counts 543 policymaking jobs requiring Senate confirmation in four top executive ranks. As of last week, Mr. Obama had announced his selections for 319 of those positions and the Senate had confirmed 236, or 43 percent of the top echelon of government. Other scholars have slightly different but similar tallies...

The sluggish pace has kept Mr. Obama from having his own people enacting programs central to his mission.


Sandy, this is completely a failure of the Obama Administration and no one else.

Nearly ten months after his election, Obama has failed to even nominate 224 out of 543 or 41% of all positions. (Although he has found time to appoint over two dozen unaccountable "czars.")

Of the 319 folks Obama find time to nominate, less than a handful have holds. The Senate has not confirmed them all because many have only just been nominated half a year after Obama took office.

The whine that Team Obama is having a hard time finding folks who have not committed felony tax evasion like many of is original nominations is, shall we say, less than sympathy inducing.

This is what you get when you elect an utterly inexperienced President with less executive experience than a certain ex-Alaska governor backed by a Chicago based team that has never run anything apart from a campaign.

The reason that the Bushies were far more efficient at this and many other basics of governance is because the Bushes have working in DC for three generations and their teams are the who's who of the federal government since 1976. Cheney has forgotten more about governance that the entire Obama team has ever known.
 

Bart- given the despondent state of the left in the last month or so, I have to assume that your post was designed as a morale booster for Shag, Bartbuster and the rest—a perfect setup for them to tick off all the failures and incompetence of the prior administration.

Before the fun begins, I hear that Johnsen’s problem has been that some Democratic Senators would rather not have to vote on her. Still they are talking about a possible vote in September.
 

Thank you, MLS, for the inspiration to note our intrepid backpacker's closing paragraph:

"The reason that the Bushies were far more efficient at this and many other basics of governance is because the Bushes have working in DC for three generations and their teams are the who's who of the federal government since 1976. Cheney has forgotten more about governance that the entire Obama team has ever known."

What can we say about Grandpa Bush and his Axis connections? What can we say about Poppy Bush and Gulf I? But the last generation (hopefully) of George W. has indeed provided the 8 years of problems dumped on Pres. Obama. If this was efficiency, then I'm a Libertarian. As for MLS's suggestion:

" ... a perfect setup for them to tick off all the failures and incompetence of the prior administration."

I incorporate here by reference all of my prior commentary at Balkinization on our intrepid backpacker, aka LLB.

As for Cheney, let's wait for his book. Who knows, it might make the Fiction Best Sellers List.

By the Bybee (no, I haven't forgotten), since our intrepid backpacker minored in economics, I thought he might be interested in the Aug. 20, 2009 Economist article "Still crazy after all these years" (subtitle: "The perils of losing one's grip on reality").
 

It's a fair point Bart is making: The remnant of Republicans in the Senate might be able to, thanks to Senate rules, block a few nominations from coming to a vote. But they can't be blamed for nominations never made. A failure neither Mis nor Shaq bother to come to grips with.

As a side note, once again Bart actually makes an argument, and other commentators merely attack him, instead of responding with arguments of their own. Pathetic, isn't it?

Obama is a textbook example, even more than Bush, of the fact that the skills needed to govern are different from the skills needed to get elected. A master at the latter, (Being gifted with an opponent widely loathed in his own party didn't hurt.) he is tyro at the former. Perhaps we need an amendment requiring one to have state level executive branch experience before running for President; It shouldn't be an entry level position.

"I don't know if this can properly be counted as more evidence of our dysfunctional constitution or not, but does it really matter?"

Yeah, actually it does. At least if we're going to try to fix it, instead of kick back and whine about it, we need to know the source of the problem.

It's our political culture, not a constitution that's largely ignored by that culture. You could get pretty much any constitutional change you wanted, and our government would still be broken, even the most brilliant design executed in inferior materials is going to work like crap.

How do you fix a political culture, THAT is the question.
 

It's reported today that another government program, social security, can no longer provide for cost-of-living-increases. Medicare and medicaid are often held up as examples of government programs that have succeeded, yet Medicare is costing 9 times more than projected and is going bankrupt. Yet, the democrats want to now control 17% of the US economy, which certainly will lead to rationed healthcare in a country that has open borders to the South. This whole disucssion og government handling something as important as healthcare is preposterous.
 

Brett raises this question:

"How do you fix a political culture, THAT is the question."

Let's consider the political culture from 1/20/01 - 1/20/09. ("Let me count the ways") Steps were taken in November of 2008 to "fix" that culture. Perhaps Brett expects the failings of those 8 years to be resolved promptly by Obama.

Brett said earlier::

"Perhaps we need an amendment requiring one to have state level executive branch experience before running for President; It shouldn't be an entry level position."

And George W with his Texas executive branch experience accomplished what in 8 years other than dumping a load on America and Obama?

Speaking of pathetic, come to grips with reality.
 

Brett:

How do you fix a political culture, THAT is the question.

Actually, I have to come to the defense of the voters here.

Obama is the most inexperienced President in over a century, so this is not a common occurrence in our political culture.

2008 appeared to be following other election cycles with Obama falling behind among likely voters after the GOP convention. The election only shifted back to Obama when Lehman Brothers declared bankruptcy and the markets crashed.

In short, the market panic appears to have caused a concurrent panic among voters. The fact that this was a panic induced wedding may partially explain the record setting collapse in Obama's favorability as apparent buyers' remorse sets in.
 

The reason that the Bushies were far more efficient at this and many other basics of governance is because the Bushes have working in DC for three generations and their teams are the who's who of the federal government since 1976. Cheney has forgotten more about governance that the entire Obama team has ever known.

# posted by Bart DePalma : 6:22 PM


This is a friggin riot. From 9/11 to Iraq to Katrina, Bush was a complete disaster. He will go down in history as one of our nation's very worst presidents.
 

In short, the market panic appears to have caused a concurrent panic among voters. The fact that this was a panic induced wedding may partially explain the record setting collapse in Obama's favorability as apparent buyers' remorse sets in.

The remorse is so complete that Obama would probably carry all 50 states if he went up against Palin today.

Baghdad, your bitterness over getting your ignorant rightwingnut ass kicked in the last election is duly noted.
 

Perhaps we need an amendment requiring one to have state level executive branch experience before running for President; It shouldn't be an entry level position.

That would not have prevented the Bush Disaster. Nor would it have stopped Caribou Barbie.
 

Nearly ten months after his election, Obama has failed to even nominate 224 out of 543 or 41% of all positions. (Although he has found time to appoint over two dozen unaccountable "czars.")

Could it be that some nominations are contingent on getting the superiors in place first?

As for the hypocritical RNC "talking point" complaint about "unaccountable 'czars'", what's Bart's beef here? Doesn't the fact that such people have been appointed seem to indicate that the holdup for ones requiring confirmation is not due to Obama?

The whine that Team Obama is having a hard time finding folks who have not committed felony tax evasion like many of is original nominations is, shall we say, less than sympathy inducing.

Well, yes, it would be were such indeed true. As Barney Frank would say, "What planet do you spend most of your time on", Bart?

Cheers,
 

Brett:

Obama is a textbook example, even more than Bush, of the fact that the skills needed to govern are different from the skills needed to get elected.

You mispelled "Dubya", the perfecter of the "perpetual Campaign™ (see, e.g., their innovative use of the DHS).

Cheers,
 

"It's reported today that another government program, social security, can no longer provide for cost-of-living-increases."

Ah, no, it's reported that there was deflation last year, so according to the official cost models used by social security, there was no cost of living increase to compensate. Granted, that cost model might not work very well, but it's not a matter of not "being able to" provide cost of living increases.

Yeah, Bush was a disaster in some respects, but he was a disaster who bothered to nominate candidates for the jobs he needed filled, and frequently even vetted them for minor things like whether or not the guy who was going to run Treasury bothered paying his taxes.

IOW, you don't like his policy, (I frequently didn't, either.) but he actually knew how to handle the mechanics of the job. You might like Obama's policies, or at least the policies you attributed to him while he was running, but he frequently demonstrates that he's clueless as to how to run an administration. Doesn't do you much good to know where you want the ship to go, if you can't figure out how to use the controls.

Loved the gift of NTSC zone 1 videos to the British PM, by the way. Competence is such a joy to watch.
 

Yeah, Bush was a disaster in some respects, but he was a disaster who bothered to nominate candidates for the jobs he needed filled

Brett, he nominted chuckleheads ("Brownie, you're doing a heck of a job,"). The fact that he nominated chuckleheads quickly isn't really something you should be proud of.
 

"...he actually knew how to handle the mechanics of the job."

It's one thing to take and engine apart, quite another to reassemble it so that it works. My brother and I learned that on an old Mercury Comet in my teenage years.

Then there's Goodling, Kerik, Miers, Gonzales, Mukasey, anonanonanonanon.

There was the nepotistic appointment of some GOP flack's kid to handle Iraq reconstruction. How'd that work?

The fact that he got some of them in says more for Republican strong-arm tactics and Democratic wussiness than it does for competency. The result, of course, is in the pudding ... or is it the muck?

Cheers,
 

"It's one thing to take and engine apart, quite another to reassemble it so that it works. My brother and I learned that on an old Mercury Comet in my teenage years."

You are perfectly free to assert the competence of somebody who's got 40% of the parts littered across his garage floor 8 months after tackling the tire rotation. I'm free to laugh at you in response.
 

I'm free to laugh at you in response.

# posted by Brett : 8:24 PM


So fucking what? You're the one praising one of the worst presidents in our nation's history. We're going to be reminding people of the mess he made for the next 50 years. Good luck laughing that off.
 

"So fucking what? You're the one praising one of the worst presidents in our nation's history."

No praise, I simply asserted that in one area he had a minimal grasp of the mechanics of the office, while Obama doesn't. In my book, "He managed to correctly reassemble the engine before driving the car off a cliff." does not count as high praise. But, "He would have driven the car to the correct destination if he hadn't forgot to put the distributor back in." is rather faint praise, too. Doesn't freaking matter where you'd drive, if you can't get the car started.

I'm not impressed by this notion that, if you don't like somebody's policies, you have to pretend that they have no positive aspects or competences at all. It's as stupid as pretending somebody is an omni-competent genius just because you like his policies.
 

I'm not impressed by this notion that, if you don't like somebody's policies, you have to pretend that they have no positive aspects or competences at all. It's as stupid as pretending somebody is an omni-competent genius just because you like his policies.


The comments about Dumbya have nothing to do with disliking his policies. It should be pretty obvious to anyone who isn't a complete political hack that Bush was a disaster. And I haven't seen anyone in here refer to Obama as an "omni-competent genius". Pretty much everyone thinks he is doing a better job than Bush, but that is a long, LONG ways from omnicompetent genius.

If you want to laugh at people who think Obama is doing a better job than Bush, go right ahead. You look like a fucking idiot.
 

Brett:

[Arne]: "It's one thing to take an[] engine apart, quite another to reassemble it so that it works. My brother and I learned that on an old Mercury Comet in my teenage years."

You are perfectly free to assert the competence of somebody who's got 40% of the parts littered across his garage floor 8 months after tackling the tire rotation. I'm free to laugh at you in response.


You missed the point, didntcha? We never claimed competence. In fact, we were (underequipped) teenagers, not auto mechanics, and no one would have mistaken us for such. My point was that it doesn't take much talent to disassemble something; it takes talent to actually fix things. Witness the Republican hegemony of the last eight years (more or less)....

And now the Republicans are even more determined to wreck this nation; the last thing they want (and can allow; tthankfully it's not up to them any more) is to have a Democratic government actually fix some of our lingering problems. Should such happen, the Republicans will spend a half century in the wilderness if not die out altogether. This is in part why they are so adamantly against health care reform....

Cheers,
 

We have a tread winner! Should be nominated for the Onion Awards next February:

[Brett]: "I'm not impressed by this notion that, if you don't like somebody's policies, you have to pretend that they have no positive aspects or competences at all."

Cheers,
 

You really think that it's satire to say that somebody can have bad policies, and still be competent in some element of his job? Or have good policies, but be manifestly incompetent?

Remarkable, I never thought you'd come out and defend the position explicitly.
 

One other thing respecting those who point to the Obama Administration's alleged incompetence is that it's August in the first year. What exactly did the Bush Administration do or have to face at that point?

Many was talking about at the time about how he might have a failed administration. The biggest thing it did was -- after months -- put forth a dubious stem cell compromise and deal with a crash in China where sensitive materials was at issue.

It also looked on as it's party lost control of the Senate. I need not even go into what else happened in August.

Oh well.
 

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