Friday, July 23, 2004

A Day at the Sausage Factory

Yesterday, Kevin and I and a group of archives students from the University went to the Senate Hearing for Allen Weinstein, the Bush Administration's proposed replacement for Archivist of the United States. The thing is, we already have an Archivist, John Carlin. Why he's being pushed out and replaced with Weinstein now was the question of the day, as the White House apparently gave no reason at all, to either Carlin or Weinstein for the change. This article form www.GovExec.com sums up the situation nicely:

At least one senator will ask the Bush administration to disclose its reasons for asking the current archivist of the United States, former Kansas Democratic Gov. John Carlin, to resign, before approving his potential successor, Allen Weinstein.

Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., pointed to the White House's responsibility to provide Congress with an explanation for its decision to dismiss a sitting archivist and urged the other members of the Senate Governmental Affairs committee to join him in his request Thursday at Weinstein's nomination hearing.

This question is really the big one. "It sticks out so far that you could break it into three pieces and each one would be long enough to goose someone up in the bronx," as Saul Goodman put it. But since there is no answer for now, all we can do is speculate. So I will.

Sitting there in the audience gave me a clear view of the situation: here was a man with, as Kevin put it, not a single political bone in his body. He seemed generally flustered by the whole affair, and baffled by the Senator's questions concerning his appointment. As if he never really bothered to think about the hows and why fors of it all.

The Senators, being Good Politicians, fell all over themselves to convey that they each and every one respected Weinstein and thought he was more than qualified for the job (an assessment not shared by my fellow colleagues in the audience. Weinstein had no knowledge of the National Archives and Records Administration's long term strategic goals, something we students could easily have told him as we've all received copies of this document in numerous classes).

Of course, this really wasn't the real controversy surrounding Weinstein's nomination in the first place, but a tangential one that points to broader concerns about the Bush Administrations motivations. The real controversy concerning Weinstein has to do with Openness in Government, especially with Executive order 13233, which puts the decision to release presidential papers, not with the Archivist, as a previous law states, but at the whim of the President. And we all know what a fan of Transparency in Government Bush is.

Weinstein told Lieberman no one in the White House had instructed him he would be expected to keep presidential documents secret if he took the position.

If that had been the case, he said, he would not have been interested in the position. "No job is worth my integrity," said Weinstein, founder of the Center for Democracy, a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping emerging democracies. "The archivist's job is to advocate for access."

But Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., said he had trouble reconciling that philosophy with Weinstein's stated intention to defend the president's executive order against court challenge.

"I think I know where your heart is, but I want to know where your lawyers will be. If your lawyers are restricting access to the presidential documents, I think you're on the wrong side," Durbin said.

At the end of the day, I was not impressed. Not with Weinstein, who strikes me as a rather frail old man, pliable in his politics and personal convictions, and not with the Senators, who really gave Weinstein far more credit than he deserved. But that's politics for you; an object lesson in how to fall up, scoring promotion based not on what your skills are, but who you know. I'd still like to know who it is that Weinstein knows and who is making the money on this deal. And since Republicans are involved, you know there's money changing hands, somewhere.

Update: edited for Fnords.

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