John Edwards

Johnny, You're Doing a Heckuva Job

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From John Edwards in one of his New Orleans-inspired promise binges:

Edwards will enact a new requirement—"Brownie's Law"—ensuring that senior political appointees actually are qualified to perform the job to which they are appointed. Brownie's Law will require that heads of executive agencies and other senior officials have demonstrated qualifications in the field related to their job.

It sounds nice on a first read, but where are the specifics? Jim Geraghty wants to know.

It's the job of the legislative branch—and the press—to scrutinize appointees. Edwards' solution would be to take a sledgehammer to a fly. For starters, what is "demonstrated qualifications in the field"? Who would decide what experience counts and what doesn't? I would ask Edwards supporters, would you say that a man whose primary experience is in running a political party's national committee and running a political convention is qualified to, say, run the Department of Commerce? If no, congratulations, you just disqualified Clinton's Commerce Secretary Ron Brown.

There's a lot of optimism here about Congress's willingness to scrutinize appointees. That's usually done in a partisan, haphazard way. Presidents get a "honeymoon period" in their first few months when legislators give them a pass, mostly, on nominating allies and cronies unless they've been caught hiring children to be drug mules or tapping their shoes in bathrooms or something else egregious. It goes both ways: Ask a pro-war Republican if he thinks John Bolton was qualified to be UN Ambassador and whether the Democratic Congress did its job in prying him out of that office.

But Edwards' proposal doesn't get into any of that, and reads like the sort of thing he'd promise to do then feign disappointment when it got quickly euthanized by his first Congress. As long as we're dreaming, how about another rule: If the president can't find someone "qualified" to take over some department, we get rid of that position (and department).

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  1. How about just requiring accountability instead?

  2. As long as we’re dreaming, how about another rule: If the president can’t find someone “qualified” to take over some department, we get rid of that position.

    Well as long as we’re dreaming, how about we get rid of the whole department?

  3. “Edwards will enact a new requirement – “Brownie’s Law” – ensuring that senior political appointees actually are qualified to perform the job to which they are appointed.”

    Instead of spouting this nonsense, Edwards should be spending his time trying to accomplish something that would prove he’s “actually qualified” to be president.

    Nothing he’s ever done in his life up to this point does so.

  4. Actually, Edwards’ idea here is an insight into his entire character and into an entire mental type: the credentialist.

    His history as a litigator probably plays into this. If you don’t have the right resume, you’re immediately suspect. He sizes everyone up by “suitability as an expert witness”.

    Sure, Brownie wasn’t the best guy to run FEMA. But some Harvard punk probably isn’t the right guy to run FEMA either. Actually, the right guy to run FEMA is probably some Mozambiqui or Bangaldeshi guy with a 6th grade education, and it’s not like Edwards’ idea would get us that guy, either.

    In any event, most analysis I’ve seen of FEMA’s “failure” in New Orleans in the immediate aftermath of Katrina revolves around their “failure” to short-circuit proper bureaucratic procedure to react to emergencies as they arose. If that’s in fact the case, Edwards’ idea would likely make the problem worse. Adding a layer of bureaucratic control to appointments would probably make officials even more risk-averse – and thus, even more likely to insist on proper procedure even when it compounds disasters – than they already are.

  5. Sounds like we’re getting dangerously close to:

    Vote for John!

    You know the onion has become oddly prophetic in the last couple of years. I’m not sure if that scares me or gives me hope.

  6. This sounds like a recipe for endless, crippling partisan wrangling over nominees’ qualifications. I support it wholeheartedly.

  7. David, you’re getting closer to the bitter, cynical tone Reason employs for discussions of the intersection of national politics and policy. Congratulations!

  8. I’m starting to get tired of these proper name laws. At least the old names only implied a play on emotions…

  9. I love that name. I hate John Edwards, and hey as long as we’re dreaming maybe we could just get rid of the government, but if there have to be laws that is a wonderful name for a law.

  10. Edwards’ proposal is already implemented, at least in the Patent and Trademark Office, so it’s not like his proposal is unworkable.

    http://www.uspto.gov/web/offices/pac/mpep/documents/appxl_35_U_S_C_3.htm

    35 U.S.C. 3 Officers and employees.

    (a) UNDER SECRETARY AND DIRECTOR.-

    (1) IN GENERAL.- The powers and duties of the United States Patent and Trademark Office shall be vested in an Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and Director of the United States Patent and Trademark Office (in this title referred to as the “Director”), who shall be a citizen of the United States and who shall be appointed by the President, by and with the advice and consent of the Senate. The Director shall be a person who has a professional background and experience in patent or trademark law.

  11. Like a paralegal?

    Wasn’t Bruce Lehman, the head of the PTO under Clinton, a mere copyright lawyer? Shouldn’t we get a refund or something for his piss-poor–and apparently illegal–performance?

    I don’t know why everyone is so down on John Edward. He can talk to dead presidents.

  12. Considering Lehman helped draft the ’82 amendments, I think that qualifies as experience in patent law.

  13. I don’t know why everyone is so down on John Edward. He can talk to dead presidents.

    And he knows that Cuba has a government-run health care system. At least he does now…I think.

  14. Given what I saw of Lehman’s understanding of patent law, I daresay he had help. He went to the Evil School of Law.

  15. Will “Brownie’s Law” apply to senators, representatives and presidents?

  16. I prefer my elected officials incompetent, like my cabinet officials.

  17. I like my appointed officials like I like my women…

    (I’ll let y’all take it from there.)


  18. …congratulations, you just disqualified Clinton’s Commerce Secretary Ron Brown.

    Hold on, is this supposed to be a bad thing? Ron Brown was immortalized by Al Franken as a “mildly crooked Black guy.” He had the sort-of good fortune of dying in a plane crash before an independent prosecutor could indict him for corruption, and after his death, a totally damning profile was published in the New Yorker about him which portrayed him as a petty, self-serving philanderer.

  19. Ron Brown’s qualifications were typical of political hack appointees. If corrupt philanderers were excluded from public service, there would be noone both qualified for and willing to take the jobs.

  20. Edwards will enact a new requirement – “Brownie’s Law” – ensuring that senior political appointees appointed by politicians elected due to their ability to pander for votes, and vetted by politicians elected due to their ability to pander for votes actually are qualified to perform the job to which they are appointed.

    Yeah, that’s gonna turn out well.

  21. Jennifer

    Ha-ha! Good one.

  22. I like my appointed officials like I like my women…

    Cheap and unscrupulous.

    Willing to do anything for the job.

    Aged 18 years and full of coke (never mind, that’s whiskey)

  23. FYI, I don’t actually like my aged whiskey full of coke, but the joke isn’t as funny without it (my apologies to Bill Engvall).

  24. I like my appointed officials like I like my women…

    Wide open and flexible.

  25. I think John Bolton was well-qualified to be our UN Rep. It wasn’t his qualifications that were the problem, but his politics and management style.

    I also think that being head of the DNC makes you qualified to be Secretary of Commerce, although not to hold a number of the jobs below him on the chain of command. Cabinet Secretaries are political figures and upper management.

  26. So, if the bureaucracy’s now entrenched, John Edwards essentially thinks it needs to build some bunkers? Wasn’t Senator Clinton on record the other day saying that we need to effectively mimic France by creating a school for politicians and administrators? This whole “Liberaltarian” meme makes my head hurt just to think about. The right/libertarian alliance is the only thing that’s kept this country livable for the last 30 years. Liberty’s always threatened, but voting Democrat’s jumping from the frying pan into the fire for sure.

  27. The right/libertarian alliance is the only thing that’s kept this country livable for the last 30 years.,/i>

    Oh, absolutely.

  28. Ask a pro-war Republican if he thinks John Bolton was qualified to be UN Ambassador

    Regardless of politics…are you sure Weigel, that you want to say Bolton was not qualified?

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