Bush's White House, Built on Partisanship?

When NPR Senior News Analyst Ted Koppel looks at the flap over U.S. attorneys, it reminds him of a movie and a book — and a pattern of the Bush administration.

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: Inside Iraq's Green Zone" and the film "The Lives of Others" on the corrosive effects of East Germany's security apparatus offer up one message.

TED KOPPEL: Watch out for governments that put a greater emphasize on political loyalty than they do on competence and creativity. In his book, Rajiv Chandrasekaran, The Washington Post former bureau chief in Bagdhad, writes about the bloated American bureaucracy in Baghdad's Green Zone, his "Emerald City." Taking particular note of the young, inexperienced people who were given extraordinary responsibilities for only one apparent reason: they had played active roles in the Bush campaign for president. That they were unqualified and incompetent seems to have disturbed no one at the White House.

It's a pattern we would see repeated again and again. The appointment of Michael "Brownie, you're doing a heck of a job" Brown as director of FEMA. No qualifications for the job, but a political loyalist. Those whose homes and lives had been wrecked by Hurricane Katrina had to endure the secondary disaster of a key government agency led by an incompetent director.

Harriet Miers, the president's former White House counsel, exploring with high-ranking officials of the Justice Department, the removal of all federal prosecutors so that the White House could have a free hand filling those ranks with nothing but political loyalists.

: to the victor go the spoils. You expect Republicans to get the plum jobs when a Republican is in the White House, same goes for the Democrats.

But we also expect there to be certain limits. Where partisanship becomes dangerous - and this is the powerful message of the film "The Lives of Others" - is when it is valued over ability. When failure to follow the party line results in the rejection and dismissal of the smartest and most able among us, when key jobs are filled by people whose only qualification is political loyalty.

We're still a long way from East Germany in the 1980s but you may recognize a few uncomfortably familiar scenes in the "The Lives of Others." It's an important reminder of what we don't want to become.

This is Ted Koppel.

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