May 28, 2003

The Best and The Brightest

It is no secret that I am a fan of President Bush. After a brief flirtation with Rep. Kasich in the early primaries, I signed on with “W,” saw him at a rally in Denver, gave his campaign a little dough, and tried to swing a vote or two his way. There were no recounts required in Colorado – I must’ve done my part.

I’ve had differences with him. President Clinton probably has the better record to date as a free trader (boy does it hurt to say that). Aside from a few issues, though, I have been on board with most administration policy, either that its outcome was desirable (tax cuts) or that it was politically expedient to achieve a higher goal (the Bush-Kennedy Education Boondoggle and Taxpayer Destruction Act of 2001). Karl Rove wants me to put the steel and softwood tariffs in the latter camp, and I am feeling charitable: why not.

But my real satisfaction with Bush-fils is the soi-disant “CEO Presidency.” That got some media buzz before 9/11 and like much media buzz, went away on 9/12 (Happy Birthday, Sis!) I contend, however, that the advantages of the CEO Presidency showed up then and continue to this day.

I have never been Vice President Gore’s biggest fan but I was surprised to hear people who voted for him -- or tried to and actually voted for Pat Buchanan -- surprised to hear them say that they were glad Bush was in charge. I disagree with VP Gore on policy but he is a bright and patriotic man and I have no empirical proof that he, too, would not have risen to the occasion.

What I said at the time and believe today is that Gore would have likely made political appointments. I think, being partisan, that the Democrats have a history or patronage and Tammany Hall-ism worse than the GOP, and that President Bush is on the bottom of the scale for Republicans.

We could therefore turn, in a crisis, to grownups like Secretary Powell, Secretary Rumsfeld, VP Cheney, and others who got their job, CEO style, because they were thought to be the best. President Clinton’s cabinet was more political and I fear a Gore cabinet would have been worse. No proof, but I’d like to hear from people from either party who would disagree.

I think that Bush’s appointments have carried us through a couple of tough years and continue today. I have been incredibly impressed with two agency heads from less political departments: Michael Powell from the FCC and Dr. Mark McClellan as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration commissioner. Both these men have appeared on CNBC’s Kudlow & Cramer (the best show on TV) and have caused me to rethink my animus toward the public sector.

In short, these are about the brightest guys I have ever seen. I have zero doubt that they could make two magnitudes more money in the private sector. While I am out of character gushing over “some government bureaucrat,” both of these people impressed me greatly.

Chairman Powell is Colin Powell’s son. As much as I respect Dad, Michael’s policy and beliefs comport better with mine, and he clearly is the better for spending fewer years with the striped-pants crowd at the State Department. He is pushing to bring FCC Regulations into the 21st Century. Regulations on ownership that were crafted when America got its news from Eric Sevareid can be relaxed now that many get news from Andrew Sullivan. Chairman Powell understands the effect of cable TV and Internet information sources and he believes in the free market enough to fight for a more modern approach.

His opposition is laughable. They contend that Rupert Murdoch will run everything if those nasty Republicans get their way. I look at the combined audience of the NY Times, ABC, NBC, CNN, and NPR and have little fear that conservative voices will take over. If these regs were so swell, I want to know how the thought police took over so effectively. Really, even if Barbra Streisand, Michael Moore, and Al Franken decide to buy all the media there is, there will still be enough opportunities for other voices.

Last night, I saw Dr. McClellan. The dude is an M.D. and has a PhD. in Economics. He has taken on one of the most stifling, sclerotic, anti-competitive bureaucracies and is leading it the right way. His fast tracking of Cancer drugs will save tens of thousands of lives. His less-adversarial demeanor will bring back capital to the pharmaceutical sector, which will save millions. The Wall Street Journal has relentlessly attacked the FDA before his tenure, doing their best work around the Erbitux-ImClone-Waksal-and-Martha-Stewart imbroglio. But there’s a new sheriff in town.

What about Paul O’Neill? What about Harvey Pitt? His appointments have not been perfect. No, those two were not ideally suited to their jobs or their times. I would even throw in Christine Todd-Whitman at the EPA, even though I am a fan of hers. But these were all good, bright people. The President made competent picks, gave them all a good chance, and then in time replaced them. That’s what CEOs do.

Next week: Austrian Economics in The Fast Lane

Last week: Austrian Economics in The Drive Thru

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