Will President Bush get his proposed Department of Homeland Security through Congress? Yes. Should he? Yes. Why? Because what preceded it didn’t work; because it is what we have at a moment when time is of the essence; because an administration that has the responsibility of keeping the nation safe from terrorists must be given the authority, power and structure to do so; because no one—no one—knows if moving boxes on a federal flowchart makes complete sense, but giving the administration what it asks for leaves them fully accountable for its success or failure, and that does make sense; because if defending our nation against the terror threat is the great necessity of the age and the government’s No. 1 job—and it is—then a single department dedicated to that function is in order.
We think labor is important and we have a Labor Department, ditto transportation and a Transportation Department. When you have a huge and crucial task being shared by a half dozen departments it doesn’t work. Sometimes you have to tear down and rebuild. A friend of mine, as part of his living, helps big companies merge; he finds the bureaucratic pressure points, the likely weak points, the overlapping, the pending personality conflicts. When I asked him sometime back what the government should do about the FBI/CIA mess, he said: “Start over. Make it new.”
Or as Napoleon said and generals quote, “Never reinforce failure.”
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President Bush should do two things to get the department he wants and to increase its chance of ultimate success.
The first and more important is to name Rudy Giuliani now as his nominee for head of the new department.
It is absurd even to consider anyone else. Mr. Giuliani may in fact be the only person who could do it. He has the standing for the job. He is the symbol of Sept. 11 leadership and Sept. 11 suffering, of Sept. 11 success and American toughness. He is a galvanizing, dramatic figure who comes with his own klieg lights. People on the ground admire him, and people in the bureaucracy will fear him. This is good.
Tom Ridge, through little fault of his own, is a symbol of failure, a symbol of a governmental response that so far has not worked. He is Mr. Yellow Alert.
Mr. Giuliani’s unique standing gives him the one thing the new director must have: pull and sway with Congress and the public to do what needs to be done, from profiling to a national ID card to fingerprinting to taking on Norm Mineta’s Transportation Department for its security rules, which at once betray a frightened timorousness and an unwillingness to respect others. (E.g., pilots can’t be armed because they can’t be trusted not to run around shooting people.) Unlike Mr. Mineta, Mr. Giuliani knows what time it is. And he loves to tell people what he knows.
Just as important, the national press is invested in his excellence. The media have been celebrating Mr. Giuliani for nine months as the best we have. (Or, as David Letterman put it, “This, ladies and gentlemen, is a man.”) Because they are invested in Mr. Giuliani’s excellence, they will be invested in his success as homeland security secretary. The story line will go this way: Sept. 11 champion becomes terrorism savior. When reporters are invested in a story line like that they help it come true. They can’t help themselves.
Tom Ridge’s story line will be: The guy who didn’t do it right is given new authority to not do it right. And reporters will help that story line come true, too.
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The new department will be a bureaucratic nightmare—a new agency that is the third-largest in the government, employing 169,000 people. It will need an experienced tough guy to run it. Mr. Giuliani has the right background—eight years in New York’s fractious political and bureaucratic fields, eight years in the Justice Department as a killer prosecutor. Remember when he had U.S. agents drag some Wall Street guys off the trading floor in shackles and chains? That’s the kind of overkill that bureaucrats never forget, and that would not, frankly, be utterly and totally unwelcome in the new role.
Moreover, the announcement that it would be Rudy will help get the new department through Congress in one piece. Mr. Bush can’t afford to let it bog down or be torn apart. The White House could send Mr. Giuliani up to the Hill to give testimony on how he envisions the new agency, which would no doubt be riveting, increasing public support and putting new pressure on Congress to move.
None of the other rumored potential nominees carry Rudy’s standing, his ability to rally, to lead, to command respect. Which makes him such an obvious choice you have to wonder why Mr. Bush hasn’t chosen him.
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Mr. Bush is often accused of preferring to be around family retainers and what a former colleague of his calls “ethical cronies.” I never completely bought this. Mr. Bush likes to be around talent, but yes, he prefers men and women who, as they say in Hollywood, play well with others. Mr. Bush likes Dick Cheney, for instance, because he’s solid as a rock—but some of his solidity comes from the fact that he is smooth, cool, and doesn’t ruffle feathers that don’t need ruffling.
I think it’s true that Mr. Bush likes those who add to his luster more than those who might outshine him. This in general is true of political figures. But it is something Mr. Bush should get over—especially now and especially in this case. Right now Mr. Bush needs someone on his team to outshine him. He needs someone who is known to be independent, known as his own persona. Mr. Bush needs a star.
Mr. Bush is not the only problem, not the only one reluctant to pick Mr. Giuliani. Democrats aren’t keen to give a historic new platform to a Republican who might run for the presidency in 2008.
But the Democrats should, on this one, be wily. Knowing Mr. Bush doesn’t want him, they should push for Mr. Giuliani. The public will love it, Democrats will get credit for backing the right guy, they will be able to claim it’s for the good of the country and partisanship be damned, and their efforts will make Mr. Bush look smaller. That’s a four-fer. In addition, if Mr. Giuliani gets it and fails they can say he’s a Republican—he’s Mr. Bush’s, it’s his fault. If Mr. Giuliani gets it and succeeds, the Democrats did it. Mr. Giuliani is a half-Democrat anyway; he supported Mario Cuomo over George Pataki in 1994. The Dems owe him.
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Of course another problem may be Mr. Giuliani himself. He is enjoying being a hero, making money, speaking, being adored. He has not run out of ambition, but he might think he can move forward politically while unattached to office. Just float, goes this thinking, and see what raft comes by. Keep the options open.
But this almost never works. Ask Dan Quayle, Bill Bradley, Bob Kerrey, Colin Powell. If you want to rise in the game, you better be in the game.
And at any rate, Mr. Giuliani owes it to the country. He knows he’s the best for this too.
Personality and temperament mean a lot in the making of a career. Mr. Giuliani illustrated this when he was mayor of New York. He was both very successful and truly high-maintenance. He led a great city to new heights, and then when the city faced its greatest crisis since Black Friday of 1929 on the black Tuesday of 2001, he led us the way a genius would if he had a big heart.
That day Mr. Giuliani finally found a foe big enough for his aggression. Before then he had brought his own dramas with him, entering each room with a sack of dysfunction on his back, creating new spats and fights when things got slow. His temperament was at odds with peace. He flourishes in war. When there wasn’t a war he created battles just for fun and out of need.
Now we have a war, and it is big enough for him. In this war, as a bureaucratic leader and policy setter, his flaws—impatience, combativeness—will be virtues.
If Mr. Bush is serious about security—and he is—he should pick Mr. Giuliani. Who even comes with an easy nickname—“The Jewel.” Give the Jewel the crown.
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The second thing Mr. Bush should do is change the name. The name Homeland Security grates on a lot of people, understandably. Homeland isn’t really an American word, it’s not something we used to say or say now. It has a vaguely Teutonic ring—Ve must help ze Fuehrer protect ze Homeland!—and Republicans must always be on guard against sounding Teutonic.
As a brilliant friend who is also actually an intellectual says, “I think it’s creepy, in a Nazi-resonating way, any time this sort of home-and-hearth language is used by people who are essentially police. When police honestly call themselves police, or ‘domestic security,’ I salute and say ‘Yes officer.’ When they call themselves ‘Protectors of the Hearth’ I get the creeps.” He adds, “I’d argue we want to feel we’re pursuing our old values in a new more dangerous world” and suggests “trusty, familiar-sounding words as our touchstones.”
Who could argue? Not me.
My own imperfect nominee is Heartland Security, which unfortunately sounds like an Omaha-based insurance company, though maybe that’s not all bad. But it’s hokey.
Brilliant readers of this site will likely think of a better name. You are invited to jump in. We’ll send your ideas to Karen Hughes who when she is not beating swords into plowshares is said to read this site, and would I’m sure, as she readies to leave the White House, enjoy giving a new name to the new department as her parting gift.