- The Washington Times - Friday, April 27, 2001

George W. Bush is in the Oval Office, but is he in control of government? Of the 487 presidential appointees necessary for a Bush administration to function, President Bush has 32 confirmed. Consequently, the president of the United States is being swept along by events, such as the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Developments takeover of world tax policy and obliteration of financial privacy.
The Treasury Department has a staff that liaisons with the OECD. Treasury bureaucrats, protective of their fine times in Paris, are most obliging to their OECD counterparts. With no one to ride herd on civil servants, bureaucratic agendas prevail. President Bush is behind schedule on appointments partly because Al Gore contested the Florida vote, but other factors increasingly make appointments a drawn-out process. Background investigations of potential nominees have become more detailed and invasive.
Within living memory the presumption was that anyone nominated by a president was upright. But appointees grew in number with the size of the federal government, and today a president can no longer vouch for all of his appointees. Background checks became necessary to guard against agents of Soviet influence. Today the investigations screen for politically incorrect speeches and newspaper columns and for insensitive jokes. The last thing a Republican president wants is nominees whom the liberal media and Senate Democrats can paint "racist, sexist, extremist" and defeat.
In fact, it is worse than that. Anyone who believes in tax cuts, national defense, limited government, the traditional family, and other core values of the Republican constituency can find themselves too controversial to survive the process of vetting.
When liberals lose elections, they minimize the damage to their policy positions by defining permissible policy changes and protesting aggressive appointees. Ronald Reagan was an anomaly. A revolutionary president determined to bring down the Soviet Empire and high taxes, Mr. Reagan appointed just enough strong principled people to get the jobs done.
In contrast, Mr. Bush is focusing on the race and gender composition of his appointees. According to the Wall Street Journal, 45 percent of his nominee list is female and minority.
Most people who serve in government seek appointment for reasons inconsistent with serving a presidents policy agenda, assuming he has one. The jobs are valuable for making contacts and appeasing interests that boost ones career and income afterward. Appointees of this ilk want to stay out of controversies, not get out front with a new or controversial policy.
Thus, even when Mr. Bush has staffed his administration, he may still be swept along by other agendas.
After the Clinton experience, most Republicans will be satisfied by Mr. Bushs different demeanor. The absence of White House scandals might substitute for policy. Just by being there, Mr. Bush will be perceived as making a big difference even if he achieves few substantive goals.
In such an atmosphere, avoiding controversy can become the indicator of success. But is freedom advanced by an administration well-honed to avoid heat? At the beginning of the 21st century, government in the United States. is far more invasive than it was at the middle of the 20th century. Privacy outside the bedroom has essentially disappeared. The family is no longer sacrosanct. The sphere of parental influence and authority has been greatly reduced. Every locality has government officers eager to reinterpret discipline as abuse and to regulate the family function of raising children. The ease of divorce means that marriage, once a source of strength, dissolves under the slightest stress.
Freedom requires strong and independent people. Ever since the New Deal, the weight of government has been against such a people. We must reverse this course before we forget what it means to be strong and independent.
The Democrats are not going to change their agenda. If Republicans are to make a difference, they must pursue goals that will attract strong appointees who will sacrifice career for principle.

Paul Craig Roberts is a columnist for The Washington Times and is nationally syndicated.

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