Principle over Politics? The Domestic Policy of the George H. W. Bush Presidency

By Richard Himelfarb; Rosanna Perotti | Go to book overview

Discussant: Edward J. Derwinksi

I’d like to approach this from the standpoint of my original background: a practical politician in the streets of Chicago. And I’d like to point out that there’s one theme that starts to appear in all of the scholarly papers that you’ve been presented, and that is the clash between the nobility of one’s cause and either the inattentive people in the executive branch or the misdirected people in the legislative branch. And the fact of life is that, in the four years of the Bush administration, we were basically hamstrung by the Democratic Congress, which, at every opportunity, had only one point in mind, and that was to discredit the president. For about three months, they went undercover during the start of and the conclusion of Desert Storm. The president’s polling figures reached 90 percent. But then, the moment they felt that the emotion of the Desert Storm victory had started to subside, they came back to sabotage the administration. So that’s where I come from.

Now, let me just comment on a few of the observations you’ve heard. My friend Dr. Sullivan, I point to him as a good example of what happens when the president structures a cabinet. The cabinet really has three key people: secretaries of state, defense, and treasury. No matter who they are, they’re automatically famous names because of the nature of their subject matters and the importance that’s attached to those departments. The rest of us are in the second category, where we struggle with the inherited problems of managing cumbersome bureaucracies, and struggling with the Congress, and trying to follow out the dictates of the laws that we have inherited. Now, that’s—Dr. Sullivan did an admirable job. Then, in every cabinet—and I just lay this out as a fact; it doesn’t really fit but I’m going to tell you this anyway—you probably have a maverick or two, a person whose main interest was his or her own career and how they could parlay their cabinet assignment to advance themselves politically. We had one such person; that was Jack Kemp, in Housing. If he accidentally was helpful to the rest of us, it was an accident, because his main goal was helping himself.

And then Counselor Valentine, I appreciate your work. In fact, I read through your paper and I agree with everything you said. Except I’m not a lawyer, so I’m not impressed with sort of legal thinking. What I am impressed, though, is with history, and history shows us that all through the 200-and-some years of our great country there have been justices appointed by presidents who thought that justice would be to the right or the left and they moved in opposite directions. And that’s—there’s nothing sinister about this. This is history, and there’s a pattern of this. For example, President Kennedy appointed Justice White, Whizzer White, but they didn’t appoint him in the Kennedy administration to be right of center. They clearly wanted him to be a left-of-center justice. By the time he retired, he was one of the most conservative members of the Supreme Court. Same thing with Judge Souter: The obvious intent was that Judge Souter would be right of center.

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