Political appointments are an opportunity to demonstrate leadership. Or not.
In Canada political appointees that have backfired have risen in conversation again. This time it isn’t a senate appointment, it’s a human rights tribunal appointment.
According to reports in the press, Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s appointment of Shirish Chotali to head the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal may backfire after a two year investigation into the woman’s actions as boss of the organization that is supposed to help protect human rights, found she was allegedly abusive to her employees.
This is after a winter of discontent with the Prime Minister’s decision-making abilities with regard to senate appointments when two of his freshest senators made headlines that are cringe worthy. There is no need to repeat them here. Okay, a quick mention.
Patrick Brazeau was charged with assault earlier this year. This came after he made headlines for calling a reporter a ‘bitch’ in a twitter message and for being investigated for billing taxpayers for a housing allowance he may not qualify for because of his home’s proximity to the national capital.
Mike Duffy is also being investigated for the housing allowance issue. He was also in the news last year for comments he made to the press – which prior to becoming a senator, he was a member of – and suggesting they should do their jobs and stop bothering him with questions.
These aren’t the first political appointments that have backfired and won’t be the last.
Come back with me to the year 1902.
American President Teddy Roosevelt appoints Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. to the Supreme Court. It’s TR’s first appointment to the Supremes – as Jon Stewart of the Daily Show, calls it.
The president is pretty pleased with the appointment.
Fellow Republican and senator, Henry Cabot Lodge says “he’s our kind right through.”
Skip ahead to 1904, an election year.
T.R. is hoping his appointment will have the stomach to decide against the railway in what is up to that point, the biggest railroad busting case called the United States v. Northern Securities. It’s a case where what is called the Sherman Act is being called into question. It’s an act that is supposed to limit what railways can do to strangle competition. T.R. wants the act upheld. The Supremes vote 5-4 in favour of the act, but Holmes writes the minority decision.
Roosevelt, who has had Holmes over to the White House for dinner, feels his political appointment has cast his progressive credibility into the dumpster.
“I could carve out of a banana a judge with more backbone than that,” said Roosevelt.
Harry Truman was also bitten by a judicial appointment.
“It isn’t so much he’s a bad man. It’s just that he’s such a dumb son of a bitch,” said Truman of Justice Tom C. Clark when ruling against the president’s 1952 actions to avoid a strike by seizing the steel industry.
But backfiring political appointments are even older than that in the states.
Take the case of possibly the very first American political appointment. Sort of, as the appointment took place in 1774.
The Rev. Jacob Duche was an Anglican Church minister. He was appointed by the first congress of the United States to be the congressional chaplain.
Duche found out by letter from the congress that he’d been appointed. The letter, from no less than John Hancock (must have been a big sheet of paper) desired his presence to open congress on Tuesday, September 6, 1774.
There was a political reason behind the appointment.
An Anglican minister as chaplain for the congress would give a measure of legitimacy to the actions of congress, it was thought. Many members of congress were members of the church. The church would possibly be elevated in the eyes of the public because of the links with congress.
It is estimated that only about one in three people actively supported the war for independence and another third opposed it and one third had no opinion. Any support gathered would help the cause.
John Adams wrote, “[Joseph Reed] says we never were so guilty of a more masterful stroke than in moving that Mr. Duche might read prayers. It has had a very good effect &c. He says the sentiments of people here are growing more and more favorable every day.”
Duche served two years and in October 1776 wrote a letter to George Washington telling him he was stepping down.
He was declaring his support for the British crown.
Earlier in April of this year, 2013, The Park Geun-Hye Blue House apologized for a lack of judgement in the appointments it made. The South Korean Blue House is similar to the American White House.
Top officials who were appointed by the right wing government, were forced to walk away from their posts because of their pasts.
Opposition cite a lack of accountability on the part of the government.
“The Blue House has lost any kind of decency before the people by making its spokeswoman read an apology on a weekend while no one is assuming responsibility,” Kim Hyun, the left wing DUP spokeswoman, said. “President Park must punish the chief of staff and senior civil affairs secretary.”
The lack of proper screening of the appointments and ‘high handedness’ are blamed for the ruling party’s drop in the polls.
Under the British government of Margaret Thatcher there were a number of appointment scandals. Thatcher’s appointment of Nick Ridley to Secretary of State for Trade and industry backfired. He was forced to resign after an interview in which he described the European Economic and Monetary Union as finishing the work of Adolph Hitler.
“A German racket designed to take over the whole of Europe.”
Ridley was so tightly tied to Thatcher through his loyalty, this caused deeper rifts in the governing party and eventually, Thatcher had to resign.
Is it possible the whole appointment scandal ploy is just a sign of cynical passive aggressive action against a policy governments find distasteful today, but lack the backbone to do something about it?
In Texas, a state much like the province of Alberta, where Stephen Harper was elected in that it is a conservative place with oil and people like to think of themselves as rugged individualists, appointments have a whole other problem.
The state has lots of positions that require appointing.
The governor of the state, former Republican presidential nominee hopeful, Rick Perry, is not a believer in appointments.
This means the people already in the position get to stay or the position goes empty.
Take Ric Williamson, the Transportation Commissioner, who has slowly become more and more despised as he pushes for more and more toll roads in the state.
Perry backs Williamson, so he’s happy to have him remain as commissioner. Another Republican, the chair of the Transportation and Homeland Security Committee asked Williamson to meet with him and Williamson refused, because Perry backs him.
Perry’s lack of appointments has caused problems with Texas Southern University where the lack of governors needed for its board has led to financial and oversight problems.
Many Texas appointee positions hold important posts that are intricate in the running of the state.
It may end up with legislation being moved that will change the rules that Perry has found a way around.
It may be that governments want someone else to make the decision for them, so they set things up to fail.
If that is the case, then what is happening in Canada and around the world is a manifestation of a governments acting in passive aggressive manner to get what they want.
Which is not leadership.