Allow me to be the latest of billions of bloggers pointing to this great New Republic article about the legions of incompetent Bush cronies running the most powerful government on Earth.
While Bush's penchant for valuing people he knows (or who gave money) over people actually qualified for jobs is of course extremely disturbing, especially in really technocratic but important agencies like FEMA or Consumer Products Safety Commission, it also made me think how crazy our federal system of appointments is.
Every 4 or 8 years, a new president appoints literally thousands of people to jobs both huge and fairly obscure. It's unreasonable to expect him to be able to locate and select the right people for that many jobs all while he is busy governing and getting his agenda through Congress and other things presidents do. It's also unreasonable to expect the Senate to vet all those people.
Of course Presidents need to be able to put people in key positions who will put his priorities into action. And we need to have the military equivalent of "civilian control" in every department so the people can exercise their power, not insiders. But there has to be some way to balance that with a bureaucratic means to highlight people particularly qualified for these mid level technocratic jobs that the President can't reasonably pay alot of attention to. Maybe fewer appointments? Or a vetting process for all appointments by experts on the topic similar to the way the ABA rates judicial appointees? There has to be some better way that a President or even his aides (most of whom are political experts, not policy wonks) flailing about to figure out who should be region 10 director for the EPA.
That wouldn't fundamentally solve the problem of a President like Bush who doesn't give a shit about governing well, but at least it could minimize his potential damage. And it would make the job of the best President, and the Senate, simpler so they can focus their energies without worrying so much about the next Michael Brown.
For instance, they could focus on really important grossly unqualified nominees like Harriet Miers. I was disappointed at Democrats who voted against the tolerable John Roberts, and I'll be severely disappointed if they don't form a united front against Miers and make her cronyism appointment a major political issue.