The Washington Post got me thinking about Bill O'Reilly's book Culture Warrior.
It was a front-page story, fairly typical for the Post. Its equivalents have been run doubtless by the hundreds during the course of various Republican administrations since the Nixon years, arguably the dawning era of today's culture wars.
Yet as Americans really laser in on what O'Reilly is saying in describing an ongoing battle between "Secular Progressives" or "SP's" and "Traditional Warriors" or "T-Warriors" (and if bestseller lists and O'Reilly's radio and TV ratings are any indication than they surely are), understanding what's really being said in this June 21st Post article is worth translating into plainer language. And no spin: its implications for any Republican elected president in 2008 are as important as they have been for the Bush presidency and every one of Bush's recent Republican predecessors.
The story, headlined "Political Hiring in Justice Division Probed," is a classic example of O'Reilly's "SP's" duking it out with "T-Warriors." Doubtless unwittingly, it spotlights one aspect of the culture wars that has somehow managed to escape serious scrutiny -- the federal government bureaucracy and the much ballyhooed fiction that career government officials are sterling non-partisans of a neutral Civil Service.
Written by Post reporter Carol D. Leonnig, on the surface it purports to tell readers that politics has reared its ugly and divisive head in the Justice Department's studiously non-partisan Civil Rights Division. The bad guys of the piece -- surprise! -- are stereotypical bigoted Republicans/conservatives, the good guys stereotypical "career lawyers" at the Justice Department. You know the type. As the last Superman movie had it, the career lawyers stand for "truth, justice, all that stuff."
The story begins through the eyes of three female minority career lawyers at Justice. According to the Post, the three had "good performance ratings as career lawyers in the Justice Department's civil rights division. And they were minority women transferred out of their jobs two years ago -- over the objections of their immediate supervisors -- by Bradley Schlozman, then the acting assistant attorney general for civil rights." Reporter Leonnig begins by touching all the appropriate SP hot buttons. She has portrayed the three (pointedly describing them by gender and race) as neutral career attorneys with "good performance ratings." As anyone who has worked in Washington well knows, the word "career" hitched to words like "lawyer" or "employee" or "diplomat" is meant to convey a priestly devotion to all things non-political and non-partisan. To say "I'm career" is to politely inform the listener that the speaker is just here to serve the good folks of America. To add "good performance ratings" to a story about a "career" is akin to mentioning that a particular Catholic is recognized as a saint.
Her SP bandwagon rolling now, Leonnig goes on to paint Mr. Schlozman with the stereotypical Secular Progressive media brush. Schlozman "ordered supervisors to tell the women that they had performance problems or that the office was overstaffed." Then Leonnig zeroes in on the heart of the matter: "But one lawyer, Conor Dugan, told colleagues that the recent Bush appointee (Schlozman) had confided that his real motive was to 'make room for some good Americans' in the high-impact office, according to four lawyers who said they heard the account from Dugan." As if this wasn't dastardly enough, Leonnig uncovers "another politically tinged conversation" involving Schlozman, this time with Schlozman inquiring if a "career lawyer" who "had voted for Senator John McCain (R-Ariz), a onetime political rival of President Bush." The story goes on -- at length -- in the same vein, replete with references to Schlozman's being hauled before the Senate Judiciary Committee to be grilled "as part of a wide-ranging investigation of the Bush administration's alleged politicization of the Justice Department."
HERE'S WHERE UNDERSTANDING WHAT Bill O'Reilly is saying becomes important. First, the headline that appeared over the inside-the-paper continuation of the story. It read: "Efforts to Hire Conservatives in Justice's Civil Rights Division Probed." In other words, in spite of the fact that George W. Bush is the elected president, replete with the constitutional authority to run the executive branch of the federal government, the startling news in the SP Post is that one of his appointees is trying to hire -- gasp!!! -- conservatives. T-Warriors. Talk about a big no-no! In his book, O'Reilly quotes Marie Arana, a Washington Post editor, who freely confesses the Post has a problem with ideological "narrowness." "We're not very subtle about it at this paper. If you work here at this paper you must be one of us. You must be liberal, progressive (O'Reilly's emphasis.)" So right from the start a careful reader understands that Mr. Schlozman hasn't a prayer of getting a fair shake from the Post.
But as much as the SP media is always involved in matters of these kinds, the point here is the institution that is the federal government. To get a better snapshot of how things work inside what is frequently described as the "permanent government" (the people who make a career out of federal service), return for a moment to January 9, 1993. The date is eleven days before Bill Clinton is to be inaugurated. Twelve years of Reagan and George H.W. Bush are within days of ending. The liberal establishment is jubilant. And in this mood appeared a front page story in the liberal-minded Philadelphia Inquirer that gave an eye-popping reality check to the idea of the carefully neutral "career" employee in the federal government, a perhaps unintended lift-the-rock-and-see-what's-underneath view that verifies precisely what O'Reilly is saying.
Amid volumes of stories that month that celebrated Clinton's style, his personality, and his promises was this story by reporter Frank Greve of the paper's Washington bureau. Headline: Fighting a clean sweep. Bush appointees scramble to stay on the U.S. payroll. The story? "A purge is underway in federal agencies, and things are getting nasty," reads the first sentence. Greve goes on to detail "desperate Bush appointees, facing unemployment in less than two weeks" trying to burrow into the federal bureaucracy by playing down their political affiliation. Also in play were GOP congressional aides whose bosses had lost re-election races and were using a 1940 law sponsored by Georgia Democratic Congressman Robert Ramspeck to continue their career as career employees of the federal government bureaucracy. By 1993 the Georgian's last name was now a verb - as in "to ramspeck" or "ramspecking." The Inquirer article focused on the outrage among federal career bureaucrats at the idea Republicans would "ramspeck" their way into the permanent government, a practice long used by Democrats who had dominated the Congress for decades.
The Inquirer breathlessly noted with obvious relief that "career bureaucrats are exposing their former Republican supervisors with the kind of angry glee that the liberated French showed when turning in Nazi sympathizers." At the Department of Education "a so-called Lizard List was slipped to members of Bill Clinton's transition team" that "targets" GOP political appointees seeking to slide into the permanent government. According to the Inquirer the hunt for "lizards" ranged throughout major portions of the federal government, including the National Endowment for the Arts (where bureaucrats sported buttons taunting the departing chairwoman) and the Transportation and Interior departments.
Surely, you may think, there must be some Republicans (let's call them T-Warriors) amongst all those liberal career appointees (the SP's) in the bureaucracy over at the Education Department back in January of 1993. You would be right. The Inquirer story describes them as "60 or so career bureaucrats whom a civil service union official considers Republican collaborators." Collaborators. The word once used to describe French citizens who "collaborated" with the invading Nazis.
TO PUT THIS IN O'REILLY-ESE, the federal bureaucracy is not only not nonpartisan, it has emerged as a veritable private club for Secular Progressives whose very professional life is not only about maintaining control of the levers of bureaucratic power, but punishing or denying jobs outright to those who are viewed as "collaborators." According to the bureaucrat who compiled the "Lizard List" at the Education Department, those who had "lived by the sword" (translation: sought to implement the philosophy of Reagan and Bush) must now "die by the sword." Meaning, the SP's of the bureaucracy were going to enlist their new and very like-minded Clinton-Gore political bosses to purge any and all bureaucratic T-Warriors, civil service and ramspecking rules be damned.
Far beyond the issue of whether political appointees of a defeated president or party get to keep their job (any new president has zero obligation to keep them) is the startling look at the similar attitudes revealed in the Post's 2007 article and the Inquirer's article fourteen years earlier. It spells out in unintended detail the challenge that faces any GOP winner of the modern presidency.
When a Liberal SP wins the presidency and appoints thousands of SP's to run the government, the SP's in the bureaucracy are thrilled, happily taking orders from political appointees with whom they agree. When a conservative Republican wins the White House and sends his duly appointed T-Warriors to run the bureaucracy, the bureaucracy's SP's view their new bosses as "Nazis," and any bureaucrat who helps them achieve their political goals as "Republican collaborators." And of course, the "careers" promptly set out to do mischief, particularly in federal departments that handle hot button issues.
When you know this, your understanding of what you see in the news clarifies. Recent examples include Mr. Schlozman's adventures at Justice Over at the Federal Elections Commission, SP columnist Cynthia Tucker from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution (whom O'Reilly describes as "hard-core left-wing" ) has unloaded on one Hans von Spakovsky, a Bush FEC nominee who had run the Voting Section of the Civil Rights Division at Justice. Reading the fine print in her attack you find that Mr. von Spakovsky is, in Ms. Tucker's charming phrase, "among the GOP hacks who perverted the U.S. Justice Department" by -- brace yourselves -- "rewarding partisanship over competence and converting the entire machinery into an arm of the Republican Party." Translation: Mr. von Spakovsky had the audacity to question the impartiality of the staff of the Voting Section of the Civil Rights Division. He apparently so stirred the hornets in their nest that Ms. Tucker blithely informs us that "more than half the career lawyers [SP saints] in the Voting Section left in protest during his tenure."
And on it goes. Interior department regulations about snowmobiling in the Grand Tetons? Opposition to lifting the Clinton-era ban came, according to a Post series on the dark influence of Vice President Cheney, despite the opposition of "park managers", career employees in uniform. Perhaps you've heard of a "career" over at the CIA by the name of Valerie Plame, married to her "career diplomat" husband Ambassador Joe Wilson?
The attitude that careered professionals are to be held above reproach while they play deeply partisan SP politics at will certainly goes well beyond the federal bureaucracy. It was the attitude at the core of the dispute at the World Bank that drove out bank president Paul Wolfowitz, an episode described by U.S. News and World Report as resulting because "staff members (i.e., career employees from governments around the globe) were long critical of Wolfowitz's stewardship." And what exactly do you think is really going on when there are cries of outrage from SP journalists and unions that media mogul Rupert Murdoch must guarantee he won't touch the "editorial independence" of the Wall Street Journal if he succeeds in his efforts to purchase the paper? In short, Mr. Murdoch is supposed to buy the paper but not run it -- that all-important task to remain in the hands of the paper's SP journalists who run the non-editorial page side of the paper.
The problem that Bill O'Reilly has so accurately fingered is not limited to the ACLU or television networks like NBC or Vermont judges. The permanent bureaucracy of the United States federal government is overwhelmingly SP. Elected presidents and their political appointees, having won elections representing O'Reilly's T-Warriors, are then forced to do battle with a permanent government that is a functional equivalent of an auxiliary of the left wing of the Democratic Party, with allies aplenty in the SP press like the Post.
If O'Reilly were a career employee of the federal government, he would be the Lizard-in-Chief.
Jeffrey Lord is the creator, co-founder and CEO of QubeTV, a conservative on-line video sharing site. A Reagan White House political director and an author, he writes from Pennsylvania.
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