Protecting the bureacRats is an old, old tradition in Mordor On The Potomac, going all the way back to Andrew Jackson’s day.
Republicans Are Failing Unless They Are Disrupting, Discrediting, And Destroying The Bureaucracy
For well over a century, we’ve all been told the progressives’ folk tale about the Jacksonian revolution: that he didn’t really get rid of any of the bureaucracy, but what he did do was he brought in a rabble, and created the spoils system. In this telling, the nation is essentially held captive by the crooks, by the cronies, until the heroes arrive: when the progressives ransom democracy for the passage of this little statute called the Pendleton Act.
The Pendleton Act (and all of its progeny that follow up through Jimmy Carter’s 1978 civil service reform), had essentially one goal, which was to insulate the civil bureaucracy from political accountability — to “protect” civil servants. Now, I think in fairness we would all agree that Jackson’s idea did fail. He had a novel concept: what he called a rotation in office, essentially term limits for civil bureaucrats.
We’ve never really come back to that concept. We want to terminate the actual democratically accountable leaders of the nation and leave the permanent Mandarin class (which some folks in this room belong to here in Washington) as an occupying army. The idea was good, and Jackson would say, “I don’t want the civil bureaucracy to remain a species of property for these people.”
But even by the numbers, Jackson only took out about 10 percent of the then-existent civil service, which by even the modest standards of 19th-century America, 10 percent was insufficiently small.
Priority No. 1: Take Out the Bureaucracy
The last thing I’ll just say really quick is for those of you who actually advise members of Congress or senators. There was a recent celebration at the institution which is still called publicly the University of California at Berkeley (which is not really much of a university anymore). Professors Lee Raiford and Ula Taylor gave a presentation on Berkeley’s purchase of a whole tranche of documents from J. Edgar Hoover’s tenure as director of the FBI. The documents are largely focused on the counterintelligence program, which was known as “cointelpro.”
The presentation from the professors in why Berkeley was interested in this tranche of documents was that it supposedly was confirmation of the systemic racism of the FBI from its inception through the duration of Director Hoover’s tenure. For my purposes, I think what’s fascinating is how they highlighted this line from an internal memo that Hoover authored to field agents where he said, “The obligation you have is to disrupt, discredit, and destroy the Black Panther movement.”
The advice I would give any of you who are advising members of Congress when you go to stage what are otherwise meaningless Kabuki-theater hearings [is this]. When you want to exercise oversight by asking the bureaucracy to provide the information that will then allow you to exercise your oversight authorities — unpack that one: The very people you’re supposed to be controlling are the ones you’re dependent upon for information — when all that’s happening, the mantra that you should have in mind is: We are failing unless we are disrupting, discrediting, and destroying these people.
Precisely, indubitably so. Unless and until that happens, it’s all just posturing, preening, and pissing into the wind.