OK, I just might have to make Captain Ed my new “go-to” person for topics. He’s done it again.
Yesterday, he put up a piece discussing a New York Times article concerning President Bush’s latest Executive Order, an attempt by him to exercise some control over the federal bureaucracy. I was a bit troubled by it, too, until I started reading Ed’s piece. That got me thinking — and is often my wont in matters political, that led me to the Constitution.
The Constitution divides our government into three branches: the executive, the legislative, and the judicial. Congress makes the laws, the President enforces them, and the Supreme Court reviews them.
The federal bureaucracy is almost entirely concerned with the enforcing of the law. As such, it falls under the executive branch. This means that every federal bureaucrat, even a Forest Ranger or a meat-packing inspector or a Circuit Court Clerk, is part of a chain of command that eventually ends in the Oval Office.
The Constitution gives very specific powers to the executive branch, and it is through law and tradition that the president has passed on the authority to exercise those powers to lesser officers. But that is not irrevocable: with but two exceptions, I cannot conceive of a single power granted to the executive branch that cannot be directly exercised by the president at his whim.
(The two exceptions are from Article I, Section 3, and Amendment XXV, Section 4: The president may not preside over the Senate, nor may a president involuntarily remove himself from office.)
The whole federal bureaucracy that the New York Times is concerned about protecting is, ultimately, acting under the authority of the president. This particular president has decided to reassert his authority in a way they might not care for, but it is rooted in the Constitution.
Nor is it a “power grab.” Congress and the Courts have their ways of checking any potential abuses. Since these bureaucrats are charged with enforcing the law, if Congress finds that they don’t care for how it is being done, they can re-write the laws involved with the dispute to clarify just what they wish the bureaucrats to do — even if it means spelling it out in excruciating detail. And if the bureaucrats choose to rewrite or just plain ignore the laws, then the Courts can be called upon to bring the bureaucrats to heel.
The whole “mindless, unelected, unaccountable bureaucrats” have long been a cliche’, the punchline of a whole truckload of bad jokes (with us as the butt of those jokes). There have been endless calls for reformation and accountability and simple clarity in wending one’s way through the bureaucratic jungle.
Is Bush’s plan the best solution? I sincerely doubt it. But it does have one redeeming feature, as Captain Ed points out: it puts in a position of authority someone who, even indirectly, is accountable to the people via the process of elections. If they do their job wrong, there is a very good chance they will piss off enough people to get their ultimate boss kicked out of office — and their ass fired.
I leave with one final thought to those who see this as a “naked power grab” by the Bush administration:
In less than two years, Bush will be out of office. And if your constant natterings and predictions and bellyachings have even the slightest foundation in reality, then he will be succeeded by someone far more to your liking — be they Hillary, Barack, or some other Democrat. At that point, all of Bush’s appointees will be gone, too, and will be replaced by that next president.
Because that’s how the system works — or ought to. I most likely wouldn’t like the appointees that a President Hillary Clinton (shudder) would put in place, but I wouldn’t challenge her right to do so.