What if the Senate doesn't ask the right question? Nobody's perfect, you know, and even if the Senate asks everything it can think of before confirming people in a president's Cabinet, they may never aks the question that has occurred to the plain ordinary citizen.
Which is why I propose sessions, following Senate hearings, in which a Cabinet designate would answer nagging questions we have.
But let me be clear about one thing: I believe a president has the right to name anybody at all to his Cabinet, whether I or the Senate approves.
Of course our law requires Senate confirmation. I am merely saying it's a poor provision of the Constitution, but there it is and it must be obeyed. All I am saying is that as far as I can see, the president should have absolute freedom in naming heads of the great departments of government.
As you recall, people sneered when the Emperor Caligula proposed a horse (a very fine horse, actually, though his enemies never pointed that out) to be consul of Rome.But why not? When you bear the weight of empire, as chief executive officer, it's not too much to ask that you be granted at least one sympathetic pair of ears unattached to a talk-back machine. If the president wants a blue speckled walrus, why not?
When President Kennedy named his brother to the Cabinet I felt that was perfectly all right. In line with my sympathy towards Caligula's horse. A horse, a brother, or anybody at all. The president, not the Cabinet, takes the heat and should therefore have a free hand in the omelet.
Of course, much of this long-drawn out business of American politics could be avoided in the first place if my own suggestion were followed: to choose all high officials at random, by lot.
That would not be too different from the way we do it now, except it would give every citizen a fair chance to run things, and (this is important) it would keep government out of the hands of speech writers and press agents.
If, as they say, the people do not errin choosing high officials, then why not draw, by lot, from the great pool of wisdom and virtue?
But since it's not the American way, at present (for often it takes years for brilliant solutions to be adopted) let us work with the system as it exists. And all I suggest today is a session at which the plain folk of America may ask Cabinet folk a few questions the Senate never thinks of.
This may be the place to remind the Senate gently that few of us are fooled by their ususal "questions," anyway. Often the senators seem to have some other motive than seeking sound information to help them to confirm or not confirm a man. Who would be surprised if a senator asked a prospective secretary of state, say, three typical questions of this sort:
"First, sir, what would you do if your commander in chief asked you to steal hamburgers from Gino's? Second, what would you do if you found your mouth full of amaretto (a liqueur) at a singles' bar? Third, are you a careful driver on ill-lit rural roads at night?"
Such questions are in fact propaganda under the guise of a search for information. They are snotty questions, if one may use a disagreeable word for a disagreeable practice.
But the plain citizen does not ask such questions. He asks straight.
"Well," someone may demand, 'since you are so much smarter than our elected Senate, just what would you ask Gen. Alexander Haig, say, when he comes up for hearings this week?"
Fair question. As it happens, I do have one question that has nagged me for some time now, about a quotation attributed to Gen. Haig. It appears in a book, "The D.C. Language" by Paul Morgan and Sue Scott, and reprinted in the magazine Vervatim, and doubtless other places.
"Sir," I would say," all columnists have spoken of your articulate manner and some of them have spoken of your wit and your grace under pressure, but there is one sentence attributed to you that puzzles me. You are quoted widely as having said this:
I want to say this very carefully and very precisely, but certainly, certainly, and foreign eader (whether he be friend or potential foe) must (in a period of turmiol here at home) make his calculations without the unity, the strength and resilience of this government in a way that had to take consideration of this tape issue into mind.
"This sentence, the meaning of it, is what baffles me, sir. Would you please explain it? Just answer yes or no, if you please, and tell us if so why not?"
And then, if he could explain it, I'd say that mere secretary of state is not good enough a job.