TAKING CARE OF THE LAW by Griffin B. with Ronald J. Ostrow Bell


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What you may already have heard is about all there is to know: ex-Attorney General Bell blames the failure of the Carter presidency on Walter Mondale's influence. For Bell, Mondale was the highest representative of the pro-government, anti-individual, liberal establishment (otherwise made up of McGovernites, Kennedyites, and Naderites). Carter's big mistake was to give Mondale an office in the White House, thereby opening the gates to the ""government-in-waiting"": the Washington-based horde of office-holders who wait around (in think-tanks and law firms) for their party to get back into power so they can move back into jobs they held before. In Bell's telling, these characters represent special interests: Joan Claybrook, Carter's chief of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, and Carol Tucker, assistant Secretary of Agriculture, are singled out because their background was in consumer causes--so they are supposed to have represented the special interest of consumers. Mondale's office was their headquarters, and they occupied most of the other cabinet posts as well; at one point, Bell suggests that we go back to the original four secretaries--treasury, state, justice, and defense--if we really mean to have cabinet government, since all the others (especially labor and commerce) ""represent limited-interest groups."" Carter's big problem was his reliance on these types rather than on ""a few friends of broad experience and mature judgement."" That the Georgians didn't have sufficient experience to understand how Washington works, or to recognize the need for give-and-take, escapes him; their failure is chalked up to sinister forces. Bell portrays himself as disinterestedly pursuing individual rights; and, in this connection, makes a sharp and ludicrous distinction between the Bill of Rights and the Constitution. But his rifle is from the Constitution's charge to the presidency, the embodiment of centralization and bureaucracy. As ways of avoiding what happened to Carter, Bell suggests a one-term, six-year presidency and the dispersal of government agencies around the country; he also looks forward to a party realignment along liberal-conservative lines so conservative Southerners can get out from under liberal Northeasterners. For the workings of the Carter administration, Joseph Califano's Governing America is incomparably better than this superficial hatchet job.

Pub Date: July 13th, 1982
Publisher: Morrow