Johnny, You're Doing a Heckuva Job


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).