I’m not sure the editorialists at the Lake Charles American Press understand how stupid of an argument they make – if they are making any coherent argument at all – when they moan about how governors ought not exercise their right to fire at will political appointees in political positions. At the very least, it shows no understanding about, at the practical level, how government should work and, at the theoretical level, the philosophy behind representative government.
As previously noted, Gov. Bobby Jindal found it necessary to can a subordinate because, in effect, she testified to a legislative committee against one of his policy decisions. This was to move the functions of the Governor’s Office of Elderly Affairs – established and maintained by the governor through budgetary authority, not by separate statute – into the Department of Health and Hospitals. Like all agency heads, the job of running this entails both political and administrative responsibilities, and will be eliminated with that move.
These editorialists find something wrong, if not immoral, about this episode. They argue that the dismissal carries a “loud, clear, yet frightening message,” that it sends “a chilling message — dissenting opinions by Jindal’s department heads and undersecretaries will not be tolerated,” that it “demeans the political process,” and “[i]f department heads or undersecretaries cannot candidly testify before Senate and House committees without the threat of reprisal from the governor, the hearings become a farce.”
One wonders what planet these writers live on, apparently on one with little connection to reality, and here’s a thought experiment to demonstrate: let’s say that one member of the editorial board disagreed with this editorial (in journalism, unsigned editorials such as this one are considered to be the collective productive of those responsible for editorial content, these individuals taking collective responsibility for them regardless of whether they were the actual author). This person’s opposite opinion gets overruled but he feels so passionately about it that he dashes off a column about it, published by another outlet.
How long do you think this person would stay employed by the American Press? And would its other employees with the same faux righteousness and unctuousness as displayed in this editorial denounce the newspaper for the “chilling message” of the action? Should we expect the paper, after establishing an editorial line, to tolerate open dissent within it ranks that serves to sabotage its message?
The same goes in the world of politics. Policy-makers, regardless of whether you like their products, need to have their subordinates willing to work towards fulfillment of policy or else in their working against it this renders the ability to make policy moot for those elected by the people to make it. Testifying to a rival power center in government against the policy of your boss when one of the reasons you were appointed was to carry out his orders neither permits a system of separated powers to work, nor is professional and honorable.
But that reality seems not to have occurred to these editorialists. Making the argument that firing a policy subordinate who cooperates with a rival power center in government to find a public platform in her official position to try to sabotage a superior’s policy constitutes “dissenting opinions … will not be tolerated” is fatuous. To her former superiors she had plenty of opportunity to register dissent – when she found out about it in the budget and when she was told she would be made available for testimony, she had her chances. And she apparently didn’t inform them of her dissent, or else the Jindal Administration never would have sent her to testify, if not discharge her then and there if she could not assure it she would support the change.
Nor does the ultimate sanction of firing subordinates to encourage their loyalty to a policy-maker’s wishes “demean” or quell the policy-making process in any way. Any such subordinate, if she feels she cannot support something, is free to resign, then to offer her testimony to relevant public policy investigatory panels, as did the former head of the state’s Office of Group Benefits last year in opposing the idea to contract out the only state-run plan to join all others offered. Or, if forced to be fired by a stated refusal to hew to the desired line, after that then offer contrary testimony at a panel’s request. All sides still get heard; there may be other reasons why, but it would not be for a lack of diversity in opinion that hearings are “farce.”
Posted by Jeff Sadow at 09:35