by Jeremy Young | 10/19/2008 11:52:00 AM
In the midst of his inchoate tirades against all things Obama in last Wednesday's debate, John McCain said something that I found meaningful. To wit:

I voted for Justice Breyer and Justice Ginsburg. Not because I agreed with their ideology, but because I thought they were qualified and that elections have consequences when presidents are nominated. This is a very important issue we're talking about.

What McCain's getting at here is that elections do indeed have consequences -- not just in terms of the person elected, but in terms of the individuals that person chooses to appoint to fill other offices. When you vote one party out of office, you're effectively voting out their appointees as well. That's an important and critical part of our democracy, because since these people are appointed, the only means we as voters have of getting rid of them is that of getting rid of the elected officials who appointed them.

This is all well and good until Presidents start talking about bipartisanship with regard to their appointees. Then they put the voters in a real bind.

In one of my courses we've beel talking about Paul H. Nitze, who was one of the chief architects of the Cold War. In 1949, Nitze led a blue-ribbon and entirely secret panel within the National Security Agency that produced NSC-68, a blueprint for the binary U.S.-Soviet opposition and nuclear arms race that came to characterize the second half of the twentieth century. Nitze was a primary force behind the shaping of U.S. foreign policy for nearly three decades. He served under Presidents Truman (Director of Policy Planning for the State Department), Kennedy (Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs and Secretary of the Navy), Johnson (Secretary of the Navy), Nixon (SALT Treaty negotiator, Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Affairs), and Ford (Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Affairs).

Now, let's say you're a Henry Wallace progressive who opposes the Cold War in its entirety and wants to ratchet down the arms race. That means you want to get rid of Nitze. So who exactly do you vote for? The Democrats, who brought Nitze into the government in the first place? The Republicans, who retained him for decades? How do you exercise your right as a voter to determine who plays important roles in your government? The answer: you don't. You can't cast a vote to get rid of Nitze. You lost that right when the Democrats and Republicans decided to practice bipartisanship in their executive branch appointments.

Now Obama wants to put modern-day progressives in the same position. Here, from his comments in the same debate:

Let me tell you who I associate with. On economic policy, I associate with Warren Buffett and former Fed Chairman Paul Volcker. If I'm interested in figuring out my foreign policy, I associate myself with my running mate, Joe Biden or with Dick Lugar, the Republican ranking member on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, or General Jim Jones, the former supreme allied commander of NATO.

Those are the people, Democrats and Republicans, who have shaped my ideas and who will be surrounding me in the White House.

On that list we have Richard Lugar, a Republican senator who has been a major backer of President Bush's foreign policy. We also have James L. Jones, a Republican general who was twice asked by Condi Rice to be her Deputy Secretary of State, indicating that his views on foreign policy are in substantial accord with hers. Obama has previously indicated that he might also retain Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, and as of today former Secretary of State Colin Powell.

So as a staunch opponent of all these men, what am I supposed to do at the ballot box? Vote for Obama after he's hinted that he might keep the very appointees I'm most strongly opposed to? Vote for McCain in the vain hope that he'll fire members of his own party? The answer is that, thanks to bipartisanship, I can't cast a clear vote against these appointees no matter which major-party candidate I vote for -- and that's a damn shame.

Here's the point: when a President is replaced by another President of the opposite party, that new President has not only a right but an obligation to clean house as completely as possible -- to fire all the appointees of the previous President and replace them with new ones. The voters have spoken in the only way they can regarding these unelected appointees: by voting out the fellow who appointed them. If Barack Obama retains people like Henry Paulson, Robert Gates, Chuck Hagel, or Richard Lugar, he will in effect be nullifying the will of the people, who have instructed the Republicans in the executive branch to Get Out Of Office. That's something he shouldn't do under almost any circumstance.



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Blogger Ahistoricality on 10/19/2008 8:18 PM:

This is when the importance of pushing for congressional progressives plays a role, I think. Also, we can move our money through progressive organizations, instead of supporting the campaign directly, as a way of building pressure in that direction.

It's hard to find anyone out there with a strong track record and real expertise who hasn't be majorly wrong on at least some issues.....


Blogger Jeremy Young on 10/19/2008 8:25 PM:

Agreed -- and that's why I tend to prefer candidates with little track record or expertise, but an extra dose of common sense and progressive values.


Blogger mark on 10/19/2008 9:17 PM:

Nitze also served under Ronald Reagan - in a key post for negotiating nuclear arms control with the Soviets.

Have to take issue with the suggestion that Nitze is the primary author of the Cold War though, we were going to have one as long as Stalin and Mao in his early phase, were alive. Nitze deeply influenced the trend of the American strategy with NSC-68 but the need for a strategy predated Nitze and was probably inevitable after 1949.

You have a point about "mandarin" appointees who can be found in administrations of the Left or Right. There is an anti-democratic aspect to that, though some of it comes from a political party not having a deep "bench" in some policy areas. The security clearance issue and the large headaches it entails, also keeps new talent away from the arena. Easier to pop in guys with experience who are cleared & will get through confirmation.