Wednesday, September 14, 2005

After the Fall

One of things that has become very clear is that Mike Brown was in way over his head as head of FEMA. The disasterous response of the nation's emergency management agency to Hurricane Katrina can be laid at least partially to the fact that the man was simply not qualified for the job and not smart enough to listen to those in the agency who were.

How did he get appointed? A pretty good analysis of the process appears in a Scripps Howard column.

Political patronage is one of the world's oldest professions, but, like some other venerable practices, it needs to be kept within certain bounds of decency.

When politicians pay off friends, financial supporters, campaign workers, and other assorted hangers on by giving them government jobs, the distributors of such gifts need to keep in mind that certain positions should be reserved for people who actually know what they're doing. In particular, any job where poor performance is likely to end up killing people ought to be staffed by someone who is qualified to do it, or who is at least competent enough to recognize that he isn't qualified, so that he can surround himself with people who are.

...former FEMA director Mike Brown, who resigned on Monday, fit neither description. Nearly 15 years ago Brown abandoned a short and undistinguished legal career in his native Oklahoma and moved to Colorado, where for a decade he supervised judges at Arabian horse shows. In 2001 he resigned from that position under pressure, after members of the association that employed him accused him of mismanagement and possible impropriety.

Mike Brown had a powerful friend: his college buddy Joe Allbaugh, who was one of George W. Bush's key aides. When Bush became president he appointed Allbaugh to head FEMA, and within a couple of months Allbaugh had chosen Brown to be the agency's top lawyer. A few months later Brown was promoted to deputy director, and the year after that President Bush nominated him to head the entire agency.

Aided by Senate negligence, and in particular that of Democratic committee chair Joe Lieberman, Brown sailed through the appointment process for one of the federal government's two top disaster response positions, even though a glance at what was an obviously puffed up resume should have set off alarm bells.

All this illustrates what might be called the Mediocre Frat Boy Theory of Life.
[Emphasis added]

Two things occur to me (well, actually more, but I'm trying to keep the discussion away from the more scatalogical levels right now). First, equating political patronage with that other "oldest profession" is an apt metaphor. Why can't presidents and governors staff their administrations with competent people? Don't we citizens deserve that? Why has government at all levels become the dumping grounds for incompetent but wealthy or cooperative people? How can a government filled with such incompetence possibly serve the people? While those are couched as rhetorical questions, I also believe they are questions that should be openly discussed by those who take the trouble to actually vote.

Second, Congress, especially the Senate, is supposed to act as a counterbalance to the power of the Executive and is supposed to actually look at those who have been nominated to serve in government positions to determine their qualification. How did this nomination "sail through?" How many other nominations have been confirmed simply because it was easier, or deemed the polite thing to do? When is the next national tragedy going to hit because the wrong person in the wrong place screws up badly? Needless to say, as a liberal I am appalled at Sen. Lieberman's giving Brown a pass.

Of course, at my age, I suppose I shouldn't be so shocked at all of this. But I am, and so should the rest of the nation. I think we ought to take a long hard look at all of the enablers we've elected and then throw them out as well.

The 'punch line' to the column cited above might be a good place to start:

For obvious reasons the Mediocre Frat Boy Theory of Life will seem least plausible to those who have benefited from it the most. President Bush, for instance, would probably dismiss it out of hand.

If he doesn't see the problem, then he is not doing his job. We should consider throwing him out as well. Sooner rather than later.


Blogger Eli said...

It's very simple: competence gets in the way of loyalty.

And when you have a president who is completely obsessed with loyalty and not having anyone around who might contradict him, then competence becomes a very large liability indeed for its bearer.

4:53 PM  

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