Presidential turnover; the journalist’s dilemma
One of the things I learned very early in my days in the political big leagues is that elected officials who experience constant staff turnover are in trouble.
This situation is not exclusive to politics.
My brother Mike’s first job out of San Jose State College was selling punched cards at San Jose’s IBM operation.
After working at IBM for a while, Mike was offered a job with the Republican Party that eventually led to his employment by a former actor named Ronald Reagan.
When Mike informed his boss that he was leaving, the guy began to tear up.
He begged Mike to stay, explaining that he had been losing too many employees and that Mike’s departure would end his IBM career.
We had a business in Mojave for several years whose principal managed to run-off just about everyone who worked for her, including its key employee, which led to the enterprise’s eventual demise.
Filling the Cabinet
I mention this because our current president has earned the record for the most presidential staff turnover in the history of our Republic.
This is a big deal. A president’s Cabinet is made up of the folks who manage his administration.
These men and women appoint people to help them carry out their responsibilities.
During the 1980s I served as a “Schedule C” presidential appointeer for three cabinet secretaries — at Labor, Transportation and Treasury.
Our job was to ensure that the career civil service employees of these departments, the so-called “unelected bureaucrats,” fulfilled their duties in line with the president’s mandate.
Most of them, in my experience, were pretty sharp folks with a wealth of valuable institutional experience in how their agencies operated, which served to keep the trains running on time while keeping us and everyone else up the line to the White House out of trouble.
One example was contributing information to the president’s State of the Union and other major speeches and preparing cabinet secretaries and key staff or the inevitable grilling by Congress.
The most important time in any president’s term in office is the transition from one president to another.
That process of selecting folks to fill an administration should begin on the day the candidate decides to run.
Ronald Reagan’s transition was managed by a talented gentleman named James Baker, of Texas, a longtime friend of Reagan’s vice-president, George H.W. Bush, who eight years later helped his friend create his own administration.
No one is perfect and there were the usual glitches, but the administration was successful, especially for a president often dismissed by his opponents as a “washed-up actor,” a characterization many of them came to regret.
Trump’s staff problems stem large part from his handling of this process.
The biggest problem with having “acting secretaries, etc.,” is one of morale among the Schedule C troops.
The “acting” designation is ethereal at best, and every time a new person at the top shows up, you can be out on the street. (That happened to me once, but a quick phone call rectified the situation.) Which is one of the reasons that this administration has so many vacancies at a time when they are facing so many challenges, many of them self-imposed.
So what do all these appointees do?
I worked hard to keep busy in my three appointments because I like to keep busy. Some of my colleagues didn’t and soon disappeared.
One of these was a woman who was a friend of a friend who promptly hung her considerable collection of “grip and grin” photos all over the walls of her office while studiously ignoring the rest of us, career or political.
Which was fine because she and her gallery soon disappeared.
My wife Billye and I enjoyed our time in Washington and made some good friends among the career and political folks, some with whom we still exchange Christmas cards.
It was a wonderful opportunity to learn how government really works.
A recent letter to the editor bemoaning people of the left allegedly dominating the news media proposed that a newspaper be created that presents the news objectively.
That will never happen because there is absolutely no way to report the news without upsetting someone.
Believe me, I’ve tried. I had a friend a few years ago, a school official, who used to drive everyone nuts when he spoke because he tried so hard to avoiding upsetting anyone.
It simply cannot be done.
Case in point: Julie Drake’s magnificent coverage of the current Antelope Valley High School board of trustees, the strangest one I have ever seen in decades of covering education at the local level.
In case you have been in Antarctica, three members of that board have gone out of their way to upset folks. I don’t know why, but that’s just the way it is.
There is NO way to cover a story like that without upsetting some people, beginning with the three board members and their friends.
My enduring memory of this phenomenon is when I wrote what I thought was a detailed and complimentary news obit about a friend who passed away way before her time.
This lady had done a magnificent job helping organize a new public agency here in East Kern and my obit gave her credit for that.
When I say “news obit,” I mean a news story about a person’s passing as opposed to a paid obituary written by the family.
A couple members of her family thought otherwise and gave me a right chewing out, a classic example of the old saying about no good deed going unpunished.
I’m still friends with the family but continue to scratch my thinning hair when I recall this episode.
Every sentient being on this planet sees things differently and there is simply no way to keep them all happy.
People believe what they want to believe, true or “fake.”
But we ink-stained wretches keep on trying.