President Bush has spoken earnestly about creating an atmosphere of bipartisanship, but recent nominations to key posts indicate he remains intent on sticking to his conservative agenda.
Bush has made five appointments this month, some of which generated protests from Democrats and their allies, who say the choices show he is outside the mainstream. The president has defended his selections, maintaining that he is selecting those he believes are best suited for the jobs.
On March 7, Bush tapped Undersecretary of State John Bolton to serve as the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. Bolton, considered a hard-liner, has proved highly critical of the world agency in the past. The 56-year-old Baltimore native was quoted in The Washington Post as saying, “There is no such thing as the U.N,” asserting that “there is an international community that occasionally can be led by the only real power in the world, and that is the United States.”
That was just the opening volley.
On Wednesday, the president announced his intention to pick Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, who attracted scorn from the left for his involvement in promoting the war in Iraq, to serve as president of the World Bank despite a resume bereft of participation in international finances.
“Coming on the heels of the appointment of John Bolton to be ambassador to the United Nations, this is now another mystifying choice by the Bush administration for an important role in the community of nations,” said Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, the unsuccessful Democratic presidential candidate last fall. “It makes you wonder whether all the administration’s words about mending fences with our allies are just lip service.”
Given Wolfowitz’s “repeated and serious miscalculations about the costs and risks America would face in Iraq,” Kerry said. “I don’t believe he is the right person to lead the World Bank.”
On the same day, Bush said he will nominate Kevin Martin to replace the departing Michael Powell as chairman of the Federal Communications Commission. Martin, a member of the panel since 2001, is expected to exceed Powell’s zeal in policing indecency over the airwaves, a presumption that has left free-speech advocates ill at ease.
Martin’s appointment, said Paul Levinson, chairman of the Department of Communications and Media Studies at Fordham University in New York, is “a step in the worst possible direction.”
While Powell was “dragged kicking and screaming into the FCC’s unconstitutional crusade against indecency in the media,” Levinson said, Martin “has been an eager advocate of such government crackdowns.”
“The Bush administration had a chance to finally stand up and respect the First Amendment,” he said. “Instead, it has signaled dark and dangerous days ahead for those who share the Jeffersonian ideal of freedom of expression.”
Conservative organizations reacted with pleasure.
“Commissioner Martin is the man we backed because he has a consistent and strong track record of decency enforcement,” said Jan LaRue, chief counsel of Concerned Women for America. “He has been a champion of cleaning up the filth in broadcasting, and being chairman will only further posture him to do just that. We have repeatedly urged our 500,000 constituents to flood the White House with calls urging the president to choose Kevin Martin for this essential role.”
Bush also has decided to bring one of his most trusted hands back on board. Karen Hughes, who left the administration in 2002 to return to Texas, has agreed to assume the role of undersecretary of state for public diplomacy with the rank of ambassador.
Hughes, who was considered Bush’s closest aide during her time in the White House, will be responsible for improving the nation’s image in the eyes of the Islamic world.
While most of his recent choices have generated controversy, Bush has demonstrated he can make popular choices as well. On Thursday he announced his intention to nominate Rep. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, to replace Robert Zoellick as U.S. trade representative.
Portman is generally considered the lawmaker with the closest ties to the Oval Office but also is popular with Democrats and is expected to win easy confirmation.
(E-mail Bill Straub at StraubB(at)shns.com.)