John E. Bryson, who is President Obama's nominee to be Secretary of Commerce, has a soft heart and a hard head; an admirable duopoly, one might think. Ideal, really.
But not in the United States Senate. Not these days.
The fight over the Bryson nomination, like so much else in Washington, is a fight among pit bulls: a fight for the sake of fighting, a fight without purpose. Dogs fight over bitches, over food, over defensiveness toward their owners and over territory. Pit bulls just fight. Proximity is casus belli.
In today's Senate, an administration nominee is casus belli.
It causes one to wonder why a man like Bryson would shatter the tranquility of his retirement years to endure besmerchment in Washington. He does not need the job or indignity of the process, but we need him or people like him. As the confirmation process has grown uglier and uglier, they have become fewer and fewer,
If I were a senator questioning Bryson, or some similar nominee, the one question I would ask is: “Why in God's name would you submit yourself to this?”
It is as though people of otherwise sound mind voluntarily placed their heads and hands in the stocks and allowed a howling mob of self-righteous idiots to pelt them with rotten vegetables and invective. Minus the vegetables, that is what the procedure of “advise and consent” has now come down to. It is a travesty of the Founders' purpose. It has become an opportunity for the talentless and graceless to abuse the talented and accomplished.
Accomplishment is the rub. If you have left an edifice in print, in business, in public works, stay away from the U.S. Senate. Senate pit bulls will sink their teeth into any record of accomplishment.
Among Bryson's sins, enumerated in an editorial in The Washington Times, is that he and other Yale graduates founded the Natural Resources Defense Council. Bryson did not author any of the council's more controversial excursions. Instead he was part of its idealistic founding; at a time when environmental abuse was a national reality that had been exposed eight years earlier by Rachel Carson in her seminal book, “Silent Spring.”
Despite the wishing of an editorial writer at The Washington Times, Bryson was a free-market innovator.
When Bryson was chairman of the California Public Utilities Commission, he asked me to speak at a conference he was convening at Stanford on regulating electric generation. We were both talking about deregulation a decade ahead of time. And Bryson was talking about it when it had no political traction.
From state service, Bryson went on to run Edison International, parent of Southern California Edison Company, for 18 years.
He has served on the boards of some of the country's largest companies including Boeing and Disney. He has also been a trustee of Stanford University and the California Institute of Technology.
Yet his detractors, the sum of all their ignorance and folly neatly assembled in The Washington Times' editorial, accuse him of destroying jobs. The evidence for this: he supported cap-and-trade legislation as a free-market solution to the problem of greenhouse gas emissions. That support was shared by many electric utilities (including Exelon) and oil companies (ConocoPhillips among them).
If these are institutions of the Left, then lead on.
Like all men who get things done, some of Bryson's endeavors have been less successful than others: Remember, Ben Franklin's stove was not a success. But Bryson's record is the record of a man of his times, prepared to instigate and manage change.
As the commerce secretary job involves managing the changes that come with globalization, a nimble man like Bryson, who has served capitalism and idealism, should be just the ticket. — For the Hearst-New York Times Syndicate