CommunityFDL Main Blog

Late Nite FDL: “Personnel is Policy:” It’s Time for Regime Change

It’s time for regime change in Washington.

In 1961, Republican President Dwight D. Eisenhower said:

In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the militaryindustrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.

Eisenhower’s famous warning is as salient today as ever, but it is incomplete.  We live in a media age unlike any Eisenhower ever contemplated.  Indulge me in a reformulation of Eisenhower’s words for the 21st Century:

In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the mediagovernmental complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.

At the beginning of the current administration, the rallying cry from the right was "personnel is policy."  Let’s examine what they meant a little more closely, because it illuminates much of the madness we’ve seen in America since, and what we are seeing (barely reported) in the establishment news today.  Here’s the advice given to the new puppet president, advice wholeheartedly taken in the parlors of power, entitled "Personnel is Policy" (emphasis in the original): 

Resist advice to leave careerists in top spots during the first days of his Administration.  Because the transition period has been nearly cut in half by the uncertainty of the election outcome and attendant litigation, the President-elect is already under pressure to name fewer political appointees to various key positions in federal agencies and departments and to rely instead on senior career civil servants to carry out the responsibilities that otherwise would belong to his political appointees. Some of this advice comes from well-meaning advisors who do not appreciate the critical work of political appointees. In other cases, the advice comes from individuals who well understand that reducing the quality or quantity of political appointments will reduce Bush’s chances of success in accomplishing his conservative agenda, effectively "moderat[ing] any ideologically driven agenda."2

Accepting such advice would be a profound mistake. For one thing, a politically neutral class of federal civil servants should not be given the task of formulating major policy changes, often drafted in partisan conventions. It is wrong to force career civil servants to don a mantle of political responsibility. Their credibility as neutral administrators of politically directed policies would be permanently compromised. It is the responsibility of political appointees to formulate and oversee the execution of the details of a partisan policy agenda ratified in an election, particularly an agenda for reversing existing policy or initiating a major policy change.

Moreover, the President must insist that only his political appointees, not career civil servants, speak to Congress on matters of policy. This will have an added benefit of making sure that Congress is clear on the message from the Administration. Members of Congress cannot legislate in a political vacuum, trying to second guess what the President may or may not do in the course of the legislative process.


Hire non-career personnel on the basis of their commitment to his policy agenda. The President’s ultimate success will in large part depend on the degree of commitment to his agenda among the people he appoints to ensure its success.

It is of course desirable that Cabinet Secretaries, Assistant Secretaries, and other agency heads have extensive managerial experience. But managerial experience or technical expertise–amply available within the ranks of the senior career civil service–is no substitute for commitment to the President’s policies or his vision for America. Thus, the most important rule of presidential personnel management is to appoint people who are fully committed to the presidential agenda. Moreover, the appointees must be fully prepared to articulate that agenda, effectively defend it in the public forum, and oversee the correct execution of the President’s specific policies by the career civil service.

Thus, incompetence and cronyism became policy, championed by the epic idiot in the Oval Office.  There’s much more in that Heritage Foundation article, and I encourage everyone to review it.  It’s the blueprint for the putsch.  As has been much noted in the wake of Katrina, movement conservatives hated government, or at least, government predicated on protecting and forwarding the common good.  As Grover Norquist famously quipped:

“My goal is to cut government in half in twenty-five years, to get it down to the size where we can drown it in the bathtub.”

But as the Heritage article demonstrates, there was always an inherent, underlying conflict between small government rhetoric and the right wing power grab (emphasis in the original):

Protect his appointive power against congressional encroachments.  Respecting the prerogatives of the Chief Executive on personnel management issues has been a continuing challenge for many Members of Congress. Regardless of their differences with an Administration, Members of Congress must accept the right and duty of the President to appoint his own men and women.

Remarkably, Members of the 104th Congress, perhaps motivated by political hostility to President Bill Clinton, at one point unwisely proposed cutting the already small number of executive branch political appointees by one-third, intending to fill those positions with career civil servants. Such a wrongheaded policy not only would have weakened President Clinton’s legitimate control over the execution of his policy agenda, but also would have undermined his overall management of the government.4 President Clinton successfully warded off this congressional encroachment on his authority. President George W. Bush should just as aggressively resist any attempt by Congress to limit his ability to appoint the number of political appointees that he thinks necessary or desirable to carry out his agenda.

Small government conservative libertarians like those at the Cato Institute, who now know they’ve been punked, never had a chance.

If personnel is policy, then Republican government policy is criminality.  Every day brings new revelations of systematic, organized criminal conduct by Republicans in government. In national politics, when Democrats transgress, they do so as individuals, not as members of a criminal network.  Republicans have not only further corrupted Washington (no mean feat!), they’ve made of it a monument to muck for the ages.

Eisenhower’s GOP is long gone:  today’s Republican party is indeed a criminal network.  Much has been made during the last week of the sham "reforms’ approved in the House of Representatives, but even reform minded progressives overlook the significance of the demolition of preexisting institutional safeguards against corruption, like the House Ethics Committee, by Republicans.  Creating more oversight institutions or systemic reforms is a fool’s errand when responsibility for adhering to ethical guidelines is delegated to criminals.  Ergo, restoring government of the people, by the people and for the people begins not so much with systemic reform as with criminal prosecution and electoral consequence. "Throw the bums out?"  That’s not enough.  Don’t forget, "Throw the crooks in jail!"

Personnel is policy.  And yet, regime change in Washington requires more than just the elimination of a whole generation of Republican politicians and activists from public life, eradicated at least for a generation more.  The Republican criminal class of the current generation has not slithered, cheated, bribed and whored its way to power without the active support and contrivance of the establishment media, which Digby has rightly described as a courtier class. 

Personnel is not only policy in politics.  The establishment media has been shaped through the selection of news editors enamoured more of power and status than of the common good.  Professionally, I have consulted on the selection of literally hundreds of corporate executives, and while I have not worked for establishment media clients, I can guarantee you the news editors at The Washington Post, the New York Times, ABC News, CBS News, NBC News, Gannett, the Associated Press and CNN, to name a few, have all been chosen because they will not threaten power.  To their bosses, they have no "agenda,"  which is to say, they have no passion for the common good (Gail Collins, editor of the New York Times editorial page since June, 2001, shows signs of being an exception).  In fact, the courtier class loathes not just the common good, but commoners:  people like you and me who have built an alternate media universe through the democratizing power of the Internet.  Of course they found Steven Colbert humorless at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner. His comedy speaks for commoners, fueled by passion for the common good.

If personnel is policy, then reclaiming America for the common interests of Americans involves not only the permanent removal and discrediting of a generation of weak, corrupt Republican politicians, activists and lobbyists, but also of the major news editors of the country and the sycophantic pecksniff power pundits they employ.  We often berate them for their lies and omissions, but we do not go "wide" with our indictment to advocate wholesale regime change in the establishment media.  Truly, there will be no editorial reform absent the removal of the editorial limousine drivers of our current caste of political power whores.  Fred Hiatt, Monsignor Tim and all their peers simply must go, for they are the manufacturers of consent, forming the other, critical half of today’s mediagovernmental complex.

Right wing movement conservatives recognize the threat to their power as Republican government crashes and burns, so people like Bill Kristol of the Weekly Standard play a slimy game of slipping the shiv to the administration while backing the development of a new generation of right wing apologists like fresh faced Matthew Continetti, whose new book argues the Republican governing class of 1994 was comprised of innocent idealists later corrupted by Washington.  I shit you not.  He knows all this, of course, even though in 1994 he was fourteen years old, doubtless newly attentive to the plenteous treats of Onan.

The Republican "revolutionaries" of 1994 were emphatically not idealists.  They were crooks who made Washington as or more corrupt than it has ever been.  But this is the sleight of hand people like Kristol are pulling to distract the rest of us from recognizing the one true thing they said at the dawn of the George W. Bush era:  personnel is policy.  Accordingly, the architects of today’s mediagovernmental complex, in both the Republican party and the news divisions of our establishment media, must go. Any Democrat who fails to recognize the fundamental need to organize and to campaign directly against the sewer rats of this symbiotic axis is dooming the party to continued failure, and more importantly, the American people to continuous disaster and harm.


Previous post

God's Own Party?

Next post

NC county sued for preventing anti-gay pamphlets



Pachacutec did not, as is commonly believed, die in 1471. To escape the tragic sight of his successors screwing up the Inca Empire he’d built, he fled east into the Amazon rain forest, where he began chewing lots of funky roots to get higher than Hunter Thompson ever dared. Oddly, these roots gave him not only a killer buzz, but also prolonged his life beyond what any other mortal has known, excluding Novakula. Whatever his doubts of the utility of living long enough to see old friends pop up in museums as mummies, or witness the bizarrely compelling spectacle of Katherine Harris, he’s learned a thing or two along the way. For one thing, he’s learned the importance of not letting morons run a country, having watched the Inca Empire suffer many civil wars requiring the eventual ruler to gain support from the priests and the national military. He now works during fleeting sober moments to build a vibrant progressive movement sufficiently strong and sustainable to drive a pointed stake through the heart of American “conservatism” forever. He enjoys a gay marriage, classic jazz and roots for the New York Mets.