Harriet Miers and the Meaning of Cronyism--

I want to endorse the thoughts of my co-conspirator Randy Barnett expressed in the Wall Street Journal: "Cronyism."

At the time of the Roberts appointment, I thought that one thing that endeared Roberts to Bush was his likely support for government power in the War Against Terror. That reason looks to be much more significant as an explanation for the Miers appointment.

It seems to me that there are two sorts and motivations for cronyism: one kind of cronyism is to do favors for friends and relatives to help them; the second kind of cronyism is to favor friends or relatives, not to help them, but because you think they would do a better job than others. When John Kennedy chose his brother Bobby to be Attorney General or Lyndon Johnson chose his close friend and former lawyer, the eminent Abe Fortas, to be an Associate Justice, these were not done primarily as favors to these men, but rather because Presidents Kennedy and Johnson wanted people they trusted in top government positions.

I suspect that George Bush's cronyism is of the second sort. I suspect that Bush is under no illusions that Harriet Miers is the best qualified person (or woman) for the job, but she may well be the one that he trusts most strongly to do a good job on the issue he cares most about, the War on Terror.

That said, it's still cronyism.

Unless Miers performs extraordinarily well during the Senate hearings, I am opposed to her nomination.

zwichenzug (mail) (www):
So, first, I can't parse your first sort/second sort distinction. Are you saying that Fortas, Kennedy, and Miers are all of a piece, or that Fortas and Kennedy were one thing and Miers another? (I suspect that there's a typo here)

For my part, I think Fortas and Kennedy were different. That is, I believe that JFK honestly thought that Bobby was the right man for the AG job and that Fortas, whatever his qualifications (which were real), was a crony in the bad sense of the word. Miers looks a lot like Fortas to me in this respect, but less qualifed.
10.5.2005 1:25am
I believe you and Professor Barnett have cut directly to the heart of the matter! The President CLEARLY does not want another Scalia because he is the justice who wrote the most scathing slapdown in any of the War on Terror cases to date. To go with a principled conservative is to run the risk of inhibiting GWB's grand designs of executive power.

The President wants us to take his word for it that Miers is just the ticket much like he wants to be able to declare anyone an Enemy Combatant & throw away the key with no process whatsoever. It's not just GWB, I do not want to trust ANYONE with such unreviewable power! I shudder to think what mischief a Hillary Administration would wreak...
10.5.2005 2:03am
Kyle Radison (mail):
Get SenatorS Brownback and Coburn to VOTE NO!
10.5.2005 2:08am
Jim Lindgren (mail):

I meant to say that Bush's motives in appointing Miers were probably the same as in the RFK and Fortas appointments--to get the best person and someone the president trusted, not the person whom others would view as the most qualified.

That said, it's still cronyism, and so far Miers does not seem to be as talented as RFK or Fortas, though both RFK and Fortas had other drawbacks.

Jim Lindgren
10.5.2005 1:46pm
zwichenzug (mail) (www):
Fair enough. Thanks for the clarification.
10.5.2005 4:54pm
Bill Dyer (mail) (www):
"Cronyism" is a pejorative term, not a remotely neutral one. Its commonly understood connotations include corruption, graft, and incompetence. Prof. Barnett and the others who've been throwing it around know that, or should, and you should as well. You clearly are not making those accusations, however, so I suggest you avoid using the term. And in particular, unless you can come up with some evidence of unethical, illegal, or improper behavior, I'd suggest that you knock off the Fortas comparison.
10.5.2005 10:37pm

Hey, hey, hey. Watch it with the Fortas comparisons. Miers may be unqualified, but so far as we know, there are no ethical issues, certainly not to the extent of Fortas.

If you have proof to the contrary, show it; Otherwise, as mentioning Abe Fortas leads most people to think immediately that the person is corrupt, mentioning him as a comparison is probably not a good idea.
10.6.2005 12:39am
markm (mail):
I think there are three sorts of apparent cronyism, not two:

1) You hired her to work closely with you because she was the best person for the job; now there's a new job opening, and after reviewing all the possible candidates as objectively as possible, she is the best for that job.

2) You prefer a qualified person you can trust in this position to a stranger who may be better qualified. This is acceptable for cabinet positions (where working with the President rather than against him is a requirement), but not for judicial and other positions that are supposed to be independent.

3) You just hand the jobs out to your friends.

GWB is too good of a manager to be consciously doing #3, but if this appointment isn't #2, he sure ought to bring out the evidence supporting #1...
10.6.2005 6:25pm