Thursday, March 22, 2007

Why Can't the President Fire Everyone?

Democrats are making a big deal out of the firing of few prosecutors who are appointed by the President and "serve at the pleasure of the President" or lack thereof as the case may be. Critics say that Attorney General Alberto Gonzales has been trying to politicize the Justice Department, but blogger and Charleston (West Virginia) Daily Mail columnist Don Surber thinks the department should be politicized, and so should the rest of the government. "Of course these firings were political," he writes. "Their hirings were political. It is all political. That is why we vote. We elected President Bush to be the chief executive of this government. He should be able to fire anyone."

I thought President Bush could fire anyone, but he was just extremely reluctant to do so even when someone screws up. But it turns out that there are a bunch of people in the government he can't fire. "Unfortunately, we have Civil Service, which protects most federal employees from being fired," Surber explains. "This makes it difficult to have the government serve the people."

I did a little research into this government cabal called Civil Service and it turns out that things were not always this way. Back in the early nineteenth century when everything was better in this country for everybody, except for blacks, women and apparently civil servants, everyone in the government served at the pleasure of the President and anyone could be fired at any time for any reason. Under the "spoils system" after a party won an election it could give away all the government jobs to its own people. When a new President was elected he fired all the government workers and replaced them with his supporters. Back then Presidents believed, as President Bush and Gonzales do now, that loyalty was a lot more important than merit.

Unfortunately, these happy days of patronage ended with the passage of the Pendleton Act of 1883. The act was passed in the wake of James Garfield's assassination by Charles Guiteau (pictured above), who was angry that he got passed over for a job for which he had no qualifications. This act set up the Civil Service Commission, which awarded jobs based on merit. (The law didn't apply to state governments where political machines continued to give out patronage jobs well into the 20th century) In 1939 the Hatch Act barred federal employees from engaging in partisan politics and eliminated the spoils system for all but the most senior positions. Except for a brief interlude during the McCarthy era when civil servants could be fired if they were perceived to be disloyal or gay, it has been very difficult fire government workers unless you have a good reason.

Unfortunately, the creation of Civil Service led to the federal government becoming too powerful. When federal workers were incompetent, government was weak and didn't bother people that much. But once the government was filled with people who knew how to do their jobs, the government became too strong. President Bush has done what he could to weaken the power of government bureaucracies by restoring some of the incompetence that was lost, but there is only so much one man can do in six years. Although people like Alberto Gonzales, Donald Rumsfeld and Michael Brown made great strides in weakening the bureaucracies they supervised, a lot more needs to be done.

President Bush would not only like to decrease the power of the bureaucracy but also increase his own power as well under the theory of the Unitary Executive, which says there should be limits on the power of Congress and that the President should be given powers that no other branch of government can interfere with. That is why he is citing Executive Privilege to resist Congress' efforts to get Karl Rove and Harriet Myers to testify under oath. If his advisers are subjected to "show trials" under "klieg lights," as he put it in his press conference the other day, then Congress might decide it can take away the power it gave him to conduct secret military tribunals for those he has personally dubbed enemy combatants and curtail his ability to decide who can be subjected to harsh interrogation methods.

President Bush has drawn a line in the sand by resisting Congress' attempt to wrest power from him, precipitating a Constitutional showdown. Vice President Cheney knows from first-hand experience how the power of the President was dangerously weakened in the Nixon era. In United States v. Nixon the Supreme Court rebuffed President Nixon's attempts to withhold the Watergate tapes by saying that Executive Privilege can be invoked only to "protect military, diplomatic, or sensitive national security secrets." If Congress insists on taking this case all the way to the Supreme Court, the Court should reverse this terrible precedent. Even if they don't have the guts to reverse it, they should at least rule in Bush's favor since virtually everything he and Vice President Cheney do is a national security secret. "The Constitution is at stake," says Surber. "It puts the executive branch under a president's control. Congress needs to be put in its place."

Only with a weak bureaucracy and a strong executive will President Bush be able to fight the terrorists. A victory in the Supreme Court will be just the first step to restoring the President's power and taking it away from the bureaucrats. The entire Civil Service system also needs to be reformed so that the President can fire anyone he thinks is disloyal the way it was during the McCarthy era and before the passage of the Pendleton Act. Then government will be better able to "serve the people," as Surber put it. Surber is also right when he says the President "should be able to fire anyone." In fact, the President should have the power to fire members of Congress and members of the Supreme Court as well. Only then will the President have successfully neutralized the threat of those inside the government who have weakened us in the War on Terror.

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alan said...

Restoring regal powers to the president would also remove the necessity of his having to invent excuses for firing appointees. It just doesn't seem dignified for the decider to have to cite incompetence in his appointees in order to get rid of them. Especially when he wants to fire all of them. It just looks bad if he has to claim all his appointees are incompetent.

Hawkins said...


Clinically insane, of course. But still brilliant.

Doodle Bean said...

Hear! Hear!

I would just add the recommendation that our President be able to fire any citizen who displeases him!

After all, do we all not serve at his pleasure?

eatbees said...

How shameful that an irate civil servant's assassination of the president could have led to civil service legislation! Isn't this giving terrorists what they want, in the same way that withdrawing from Iraq will validate the al Qaeda strategy? Yet another reason why civil service reform should be reversed, even if the laws have been in place for 125 years. It's never too late to correct a mistake! We should stand tall in the face of terrorism by returning to the days when the president was our elected monarch, and all of Washington was his personal fief!

Also, though I appreciate the three-minute history lesson, I object to your seeming moral relativism when you imply that being "disloyal or gay" weren't "good reasons" to fire civil servants in the 1950s. To Senator McCarthy, "disloyal" meant Communist or Jewish (before AIPAC, it was the same thing), and being gay was against the will of God in the 1950s just as it is now, unless you were McCarthy's right hand man or the head of the FBI. The only thing we can say against "disloyal or gay" as reasons for firing is that even legitimate reasons limit the power of the president, whose unitary authority doesn't need reasons at all.

Let's not give an inch to those puff pastries of the Left who want to rob our nation of its glory!

MistahCharley said...

Sometimes "logical" and "practical" are two different things.

The Truffle said...

But if Bush fires all those people, won't he have to pay unemployment benefits? I'm confused.

Dr X said...


You've outdone yourself this time. There is no limit to your ability to simulate the intellectual and moral contortions of a world class reprobate. You should be appointed as the next president of the United States.

Jay said...

I think the citizens should be able to fire the president, anytime, anywhere, no severance, no written warning, just a stern handshake and that's it.

Anonymous said...

I would just like to know what the hell kind of a name is "eatbees." And is this in any way connected to the fact that the world is running short of them? Hmm?

Kevin said...

Goodness me Jon... and I hear if Bush would have had more success with these firings he was going to target those treasonous mail carriers who refused to throw out Democratic propaganda that they are forced to deliver door to door.

Of course Bush's biggest mistake in all of these firings is that he was too lazy to carry them out during his first term. Bill Clinton, in his great wisdom, fired all of the US attorneys when he was elected... apparently in order to strike a blow to the powers of government.

Here's hoping that the next President is much more on-the-job and fires everyone she possibly can quickly so we don't have to have the name of this great nation tarnished by actions governed purely by political motivations...

Anonymous said...

Of course "unitary executive" is just another word for "elected dictatorship".

Should a guy that got less than half of the total vote (and still got in) really deserve unlimited authority?

james higham said...

He can't fire the cabal emplaced. I've jsut recently been posting on Jeckyll Island and it's as clear as day there. Cheney and friends are simply fixtures although they did make Rummy the sacrificial but that's a measure of the man - takes it on the chin.

Jaesoreal said...

Careful now...I'm a civil servant! BUSH I LOVE YOU! PLEASE LET ME KEEP MY JOB!

Bukko_in_Australia said...

President Bush walked into the place where I worked and got the boss to fire me! And I work in fast food! How unfair is that?

And he's a shitty tipper, too.

Anonymous said...

Your tagline --
"...Since the media is biased I get all my news from Fox News, Rush Limbaugh and Jay Leno monologues."

So, since the media is biased you only watch/listen to some of the most biased media around?? It would make sense if you listened to ALL media that it was balanced through inclusion, but c'mon, man, if you only listen to Fox and Rush you are only getting about 27% of the big picture. Listen to public radio, Fox, and an external news source, like the BBC, and then you might be able to piece together something resembling the actual state of the world, but if you only listen to one source, whichever source that is, you are going to be handicapping your vision of actual events. said...

That is really interesting point of view. So what can the president do?)