With focus turned, it’s still cronyism as usual

If there’s anything George W. Bush has shown the American public in his past eight years in office, it’s that he’s a master of misdirection.

Even when Bush and his administration are not personally responsible for whatever is the newest, loudest, shiniest thing on the news, they certainly aren’t going to miss an opportunity to try to slip one past us.

Case in point: With all the hoopla concerning the 2008 presidential elections, it can be hard to notice a little thing like who’s being nominated for the position of Secretary of U.S. Housing and Urban Development.

According to CNN, when Alfonso Jackson – Bush’s last appointed HUD Secretary – stepped down in April he cited “personal and family matters,” and mentioned nothing concerning the many allegations of misconduct that had led Sen. Chris Dodd to call for his resignation.

Misconduct is really a matter of perspective, though. If the vice president of the United States can submit faulty, possibly fraudulent intelligence to the U.S. Senate; if the President himself can circumvent the court established by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and authorize warrantless wiretapping in the name of domestic security; then who remains to set the standard?

All that Jackson allegedly did was mislead Congress, display a little favoritism in his HUD contract awards, and perform his official duties in an extremely unprofessional, politically motivated way.

But it’s often been commented that cronyism has been at its worst during the Bush administration. Bush is a “good ol’ boy,” and let no one ever say that he doesn’t take care of his own. Even when they fail miserably at their ill-prepared endeavors – like Michael Brown, previous director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, whose mishandling of the Katrina aftermath only worsened the disaster – they still get an “Atta boy” and a “Heckuva job.”

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I’m going a little out of my way here to make a point about favoritism. In some settings it’s illegal, in others it’s unethical, and in most, it’s a big, exploitably gray, fuzzy area.

Jackson once commented during a public speech: “Why should I reward someone who doesn’t like the president, so they can use funds to try to campaign against the president? Logic says they don’t get the contract. That’s the way I believe.” I can’t tell whether his comment was idiotic or refreshingly honest, after Attorney General Alberto Gonzales’ sudden and unexplainable amnesia when questioned on politically motivated actions.

At the very least, Jackson’s stance was predictable, coming from a member of the Bush cabinet.

Concerning Jackson’s resignation, Sen. Dodd told CNN, “I hope this change in personnel will be matched by a change in policy that brings real solutions to the housing crisis that has triggered this economic recession.” Who did he think he was kidding?

At a time when the nation most needs a sure and steady hand in guiding the development of low-income housing and implementing programs for those who have been squeezed out of the housing market by rampant inflation, Bush offers Steve Preston as nominee for the job.

So who is Steve Preston? Preston was appointed administrator of the U.S. Small Business Administration in 2006 by President Bush. According to his biography on the SBA website, “Prior to his post at SBA, he was Executive Vice President of The ServiceMaster Company . a senior vice president and treasurer of First Data Corporation, and an investment banker at Lehman Brothers.” Sounds like a small-business kind of guy, doesn’t he?

I suppose Preston’s previous job performance should probably factor into my evaluation of his competency for the post. In an official statement on her Web site, Rep. Nydia Velazquez, the chairwoman of the House Small Business committee, said Preston is “trading one troubled agency for another . the fact remains the agency Mr. Preston has been responsible for leading is still plagued by serious problems of its own.”

So what does Sen. Dodd think of Bush’s nominee? Dodd said in an official statement on his Senate Web site, “As our nation faces the biggest housing crisis in recent history, we need a strong leader at the Department of Housing and Urban Development . a leader with expertise in housing issues, yet the President’s choice has no apparent housing background, which raises questions.”

Like the proverbial kid with his hand in the cookie jar, our president requires a watchful eye from all of us. He tries to get away with the sneakiest things when he thinks nobody’s looking.