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Copyright © 2000 by J. Neil Schulman. All rights reserved.

Should President-Elect Bush Offer
Secretary of Education to Joe Lieberman?

by J. Neil Schulman

It seems an elegant solution to a complex problem.

Unless lightning strikes, we will find ourselves in a political deadlock, with a Republican president, only a slight Republican majority in the House of Representatives, and a fifty-fifty split in the Senate ... not enough votes along party lines for either side to shut off a senate filibuster by the other.

Libertarians might automatically rejoice at the prospect of continued political deadlock preventing the advancing of further encroachments on our freedoms. But the truth is, bipartisan coalitions always seem to form around prosecuting wars, whether the enemies are foreigners or domestic pharmaceutical consumers; and it is only the possibility of dismantling oppressive law which seems to need a clear Congressional voting majority with no president to veto it.

Not to put too fine a point on it, the presidential appointment to the Supreme Court of another Warren Burger, a Nixon appointee who dismissed the Second Amendment out of hand, could probably find enough Democratic votes in the Senate for confirmation. The appointment of a Walter Williams, a libertarian who would write a decision to reestablish the Second Amendment as a justiciable legal doctrine, would require a party-line Republican majority with no cowards, poltroons, or traitors.

Killing off a Democratic senator or two might appear to be an attractive option for redressing such a deadlock; but it's never as much fun as it looks at the outset. First of all there's the interminable geshrei that is bound to follow for decades to come. Lots of people still haven't gotten over shouting about the JFK and RFK assassinations in the sixties; and God forbid, given the precedent of the Gun Control Act of 1968, that any assassin is again strategically brain dead enough to employ a gun.

In fact, any illegal means of redressing the political deadlock seems doomed to failure. Let's face it, Republicans simply don't have the talent for intrigue. G. Gordon Liddy, for example, makes a pretty entertaining radio-talk-show host, who often makes cogent points. As a spy for the Nixon administration, however, he was a bungling incompetent.

That leaves war conducted by other means, which is the usual definition of politics. In other words, political horse-trading, usually with horses stolen from some hapless third party.

The new Bush administration might think it worthwhile to tempt Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman, recently of the Gore-Lieberman ticket, to leave the United States Senate for a chair in the new Bush cabinet. Before he joined the Gore ticket, Joe Lieberman was friendly to Milton Friedman's notion of private-school tax vouchers, to allow poorer victims of the public-school monolith an escape hatch.

Bush appointing Joe Lieberman as Secretary of Education would have several immediate benefits to the new administration. It would be an olive branch across the aisle to the Democrats after the closest and most contentious presidential election in living memory. It would encourage Lieberman to abandon anti-voucher positions he adopted for the sake of unity in the 2000 Democratic ticket and resume his true course. It would be an affirmation of Republican outreach to an American Jewish electorate that is historically far too left-wing for its own good. And -- strategically important to such a political bargain -- it would enable Connecticut Republican Governor John G. Rowland to appoint a Republican to Lieberman's vacated Senate seat, giving the Republicans one more desperately needed vote in the Senate.

Such a strategy is not without its risks to the Republican Party. The additional Republican vote in the Senate might come at the cost of giving the Democrats, in a Secretary Lieberman, an even-more powerful opponent in some future election. If Lieberman was not loyal to the Bush administration, he might end up a loose cannon with a high political cost to the rest of the Bush administration, should Bush need to fire him.

Neither should pro-Second-Amendment Republicans be sanguine about a Secretary of Education who posted on his website a call for a "safe haven" from concealed-carry firearms licensees, and who, in typical Democratic rhetoric, asked, "Why does anyone other than a law enforcement officer need to carry a firearm into these public spaces?" The studies showing that such gun restrictions increase violent crime, by assuring armed criminals an unrestricted free-fire zone, doesn't seem to penetrate, and is a valid concern to anyone contemplating a deal with the Democrat.

Of course, Joe Lieberman might simply be so much of a Democratic Party hack after the election, which caused him to posture ridiculously, that he wouldn't be interested in such an appointment. The offer might be dead on arrival. But Secretary of Education would get Joe Lieberman inside the White House on a regular basis, and to those whose Walkmans are tuned to the siren songs of power, that's not something to be dismissed lightly.

The Republicans might consider making the offer, secure in the knowledge that if Joe Lieberman goes feral, all cabinet secretaries serve at the pleasure of the President.

But if they do, as always, Republicans should keep their powder dry.

J. Neil Schulman
December 3, 2000

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