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21 October 2005

Harriet: Why Not The Second or Third Best?

The red line is the course the world's first nuclear submarine, The USS Nautilus, CPT W.R. Anderson commanding, sailed from Pearl Harbor to Portland, England -- from Pacific to Atlantic, the legendary Northwest Passage -- under the Arctic ice cap in 1958.

Jimmy Carter was graduated from Annapolis just months too late to see active service during World War II, but the young Navy officer fell in with a fast Navy crowd in the troubled postwar peace. He was tapped by Admiral Hyman Rickover for the team that was inventing nuclear submarines out of that new-fangled Atomic Energy stuff.

They didn't know how to do it, or if it even was possible, but you didn't have to be Jules Verne or Nostradamus to see why a submarine that didn't have to come up for air or fuel for six months might be a Good Thing.

It was going to be such a huge and complicated project that Rickover and his team even invented a new mathematical tool to plan everything -- including surprises and unknown developments -- in the most orderly, straightforward, efficient way: PERT, which is almost the same as its other competitor, CPM (Critical Path Method).

Rickover had a motto: Why Not The Best?

And it was more than a bumper sticker or a catchy slogan to him. Nobody and nothing on his nuclear sub team was permitted anything less than The Best it was possible to be or do. Eventually they got one of them built and sent to sea, the Nautilus ... it worked like a waterproof Swiss watch, it sailed under the polar ice cap, and the US Navy's subs have been nuclear ever since.

Later, when Jimmy Carter went into politics, he called his autobiography "Why Not The Best?" and explained that his old Navy boss' motto of accepting nothing short of Excellence had inspired him with the same spirit and philosophy of public service.

Okay, well, history moves on, times change, there cometh a generation that knoweth not Hyman Rickover.

It's time to find a replacement for a retiring associate justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. Bush nominates a Texas corporate lawyer who used to chair the Texas state Lottery, Harriet E. Miers.

Now the slogan from the White House Team seems to be: Why Not The Second or Third Best?

Hell ... if they can ram her through this nasty, hostile Senate hearing thing -- Clarence Thomas made it -- and get her a robe and put her in a taxi to the Supreme Court (it's near the US Capitol, maybe she's never been there before, she didn't practice that kind of law) ... what difference will it make that she seems to be an intellectual, legal, Constitutional lightweight?

Maybe she'll grow with the job. Like the guy who nominated her. He was just a smiling photo-op baby-kissing hand-shaking lightweight when he was ... well, when he somehow got the White House job in 2000.

But those crises and challenges and national emergencies he hadn't been expecting ... George W. Bush Jr. certainly woke up, smelled the coffee, got Presidential, hit the ground running, became a heavyweight. You can see how he's grown; it's reflected in all the polls, the confidence Americans have about the way he's been running this leaky lifeboat on the stormy seas on his watch.

Lightweights -- well, they usually can only get heavier, they usually can't get lighter. I guess they can stay the same.

But let's get real. The days of Why Not The Best? are over, they're quaint history. We can't afford that kind of luxurious pie-in-the-sky kind of public servant anymore. We can't afford Brilliant. We're in Deep Shit right now, and Visionary just won't cut it.

Why Not The Best? hasn't been the way government service works for a long time.

Government (where it can be distinguished from politics) has a new agenda. Government's not about aspirations of Excellence anymore. It's certainly not about principle. And it's certainly not about giving the American people the best public service possible anymore.

It's about Other Things. (Leave A Comment if you want to express what the Other Things are.)

So let's get ready for Associate Justice Harriet E. Miers. How bad can she be? We'll get to see how she votes on each case, and we'll get to hear the questions she asks the lawyers for both sides of each case -- but her conversations and deliberations with her colleagues on the bench will be entirely private, and even her thought processes will be none of the public's business, unless she's tapped to write an opinion, or wants to write a dissent.

But change that slogan already.

Why not the second best? Why not the third or the fourth or the fifth best? Why not?


Anonymous Jim Olson said...

Oh, but Bob, you forget that we have the Chimperor's personal assurance that he knows Harriet and that she is the same now as she was 20 years ago, and that she will not change once she is on the Bench.

Personally, I want a Justice who is willing to learn and grow into the job.

Blogger Bob Merkin said...

He says he knows her heart. He also said he knows Vladimir Putin's heart, and he knows Vladimir's a Good Guy. He has amazing mystic powers.

Have a little pity on the guy. His House Majority Leader just got fingerprinted and had his mug shot taken on Texas felony charges. His Chief of Staff has spent the past month talking to a grand jury and may get indicted momentarily -- federal felony. Three times a week they take a poll to see how many people approve of the job he's doing, and them numbers have just been diving into the toilet lately.

And don't forget -- the hurricane itself wasn't his fault.

Well, here's the good news: No matter who the next president might be, we only have George W. Bush Jr. for 1187 more days.

Anonymous Anonymous said...

George should be impeached. Found guilty of treason and lying to the American public during a War. And then face a firing squad.


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