Saturday, April 21, 2007

Gonzales - The "Peter Principle" in Action

The Peter Principle is a theory originated by Dr. Laurence J. Peter which states that employees within a hierarchical organization advance to their highest level of competence, are then promoted to a level where they are incompetent, and then stay in that position. That definition comes from Wikipedia, but it applies to Alberto Gonzales according to one of the most rock-ribbed republicans of my acquaintance.

Although its true that the AG has many responsibilities, and Gonzales may in fact be capable of discharging some of them effectively, recent disclosures over the firing of eight U.S. attorneys clearly showed he's a minor leaguer who has no business being in the president's cabinet.

Early in the process of these firings Kyle Sampson, his chief of staff, recognized the political heat the firings would generate. Sampson wrote that "everyone needed to be on the same page" in order to withstand the heat. Was Gonzales smart enough to recognize the risks inherent in this very unusual selective firing of U.S. Attorneys - attorneys who had not always responded to political direction regarding prosecutions? No, he was not. He was totally unprepared to deal with the fallout. His stories were all over the place, and his attempt to blame subordinates simply showed that he was either an incompetent boss or a bald-faced liar. Gonzales didn't understand the risk, didn't plan ahead for dealing with the outcry, and ended up looking like a bonehead on national television. That's minor league.

The second major indication of minor league status is his choice of Kyle Sampson and Monica Goodling, both of whom have resigned over this gaffe. The latter has even decided to "take the Fifth" if questioned by congress about the firings. Incompetent people like Gonzales often hire others who present no challenge to them - people who have good reasons to be followers rather than advisors, people who lack experience and make Gonzales appear more capable in comparison with them. Their resignations make his resignation a necessity, since it was his lack of understanding and leadership that allowed these relative neophytes to go so far down the road of no return. His protestations of ignorance about "the process" just show his incompetence. When a manager delegates a sensitive matter, he must be doubly sure that the process is ironclad. He failed.

What does this sad episode say about Gonzales's boss, our president? It confirms that his personal loyalties trump all other considerations, even the national interest. Time after time, President Bush's personnel choices have been flawed. Cheney. Rumsfeld. Wolfowitz and Co. Miers. FEMA director Michael Brown. Ashcroft. Bremer. As my boss once told me, "You are who you hire." It may be that Bush will survive these poor choices for the duration of his term, but they will be a major part of his legacy. Had he understood that he needed a top-notch team to compensate for his own rather obvious shortcomings, perhaps flaps like the U.S. Attorney debacle and the Miers nomination would never have happened. But they did.

1 comment:

ThomasLB said...

I sometimes wonder if we really elect a person to be president, or if we are really electing a party. Maybe the president is just a figurehead.

There are so many things to be done in so many different fields that a president relies on the machinery of his party to do a lot of the work for him. In this case, I'd be surprised if GWB has ever done anything more strenuous than sign off on someone else's thinking.

I think Dick Cheney truly is evil and self-centered enough to sell out the country for his own personal profit, and I think Bush truly is stupid enough to let it happen. My guess is they've shredded all the documents, and we'll never know for sure.