Time to Turn the Page on Pa[i]ge

A long time ago Machiavelli wrote in The Prince that people will judge how wise a leader ('prince' in the text) is by his choice of close advisors or 'ministers.' The main criterion for a good and trusted advisor is one who puts the prince's concerns over those of his own.

We can think of 'ministers' as heads of cabinet departments to our modern day version of the 'prince,' or the President. A little dose of history permits us to reflect upon the cohorts of 'ministers' in decades past. How well did they all stack up? Well, someone (or many, Google might show) has probably written a book comparing Truman's cabinet to, say, Nixon's.

But on one measure alone, longevity in office, I thought of four presidential cabinets, those of Truman, Johnson, Nixon, and George H. W. Bush. [Hang in there with me; there's a point coming to this!]

Is it always wise to keep someone in office for the duration of a presidency?

When should a President replace a cabinet secretary?

Is there a downside to a cabinet change?

Some present day cabinet departments did not exist back in the nearly 8-year term of Harry Truman. So, I looked at one that flowed across generations -- the Department of Labor. Hey, we all should be concerned with the head of the department that keeps tabs on our workforce, the engine of our national welfare and contributors to our domestic coffers, right?

Truman inherited Frances Perkins upon Roosevelt's death but he went on to have two secretaries of his own selection -- Lewis Schwellenbach and Maurice Tobin. Like Truman, Lyndon Johnson inherited cabinet heads, but Labor's W. Willard Wirtz suited Johnson through his entire administration.

Richard Nixon had three Labor Secretaries: George Shultz, James Hodgson, and Peter Brennan. George H. W. Bush had the distinction of two women in that office, Elizabeth Dole and Lynn Martin.

Funny thing, but not one of the Secretaries of Labor left a tarnished legacy upon the commander-in-chief -- not that we remember anyway. And one even went on to win a Senate seat -- pretty darn respectable, so it seems.

This dose of history leads me to ponder the Cabinet Secretaries, the 'ministers' or the trusted advisors of our current President George W. Bush. Without examining them all, I'll cut to the chase and say that one of them is leaving a shadow on his 'prince,' and the 'minister's' legacy may be recalled someday in shame.

In the entire history of the United States of America, we have had only seven Secretaries of Education -- Shirley Hufstedler, Terrel Bell, William Bennett, Lauro Cavazos, Lamar, Alexander, and now, Dr. Roderick Paige. The Secretary of Education is charged with ensuring equal access to education and promoting educational excellence throughout the country. Dr. Paige's antics are inflammatory, though, and not inspiring of excellence. He can serve his boss best by resigning now.

Tough talk? Well consider who's doing the tough talking on behalf of a nation concerned with the big 'E' -- Education.

During a February 23, 2004 meeting with the nation's governors, Education Secretary Rod Paige called the National Education Association a "terrorist organization." Hmmm. . .terrorist? Does that mean teachers who are members of the NEA can't pass through airport security or what? With 2.7 million members of the NEA, we've got a heckuva job corner-eying that crowd!

Gee whiz, Secretary Paige, the use of terms like "terrorist" is pretty loaded stuff.

Hold on a second, just who is this man Dr. Paige, who would point a finger at the teachers of your kids and mine and call them "terrorists?" True, he offered an apology of sorts the next day distinguishing the "terrorists" he meant were the lobbyists who work for the NEA (and challenge his agenda). Oh, great recovery Dr. Paige.

In reflecting upon his upbringing as a child in rural Mississippi, Paige mentioned in a May 2004 interview that he got hand-me-down books from other schools. There were pages ripped out and there was writing in the margins he said. What pages were missing that might have led him -- a half-century later -- to label anyone "terrorists" without pondering it first with his own trusted advisors as well as running the notion by his Boss? Do I hear the sounds of a loose cannon rattling along the steps of the Department of Education?

Apparently, Dr. Paige loves history. He said in an interview for the Sept./Oct. 2004 Humanities journal that history "is a collection of really great stories. . . it is fascinating."

Well, in recent months it seems that we have learned a great deal of history about Who in the administration served in the military and who did not and what the heck the difference makes in the execution of their present job.

Not that it matters for a Secretary of Education, but Dr. Paige doesn't talk about his own military service or Peace Corps tenure. Nope, can't find the mention in his biography; was it overlooked? Maybe he was deferred during the Berlin Crisis or during the Vietnam 'conflict' because of an education deferment. He was after all, hard at work at Indiana University on his PhD in Physical Education where he advanced the scholarship on response time of football linemen. What a relief.

The annals of history show that one teacher who turned school superintendent, and again turned college president, became the first permanent secretary of the National Education Association. Dr. Irwin Shepard held this position 1893-1912 and out of deep conviction ran the NEA out of his home in Winona, Minnesota longer than he planned to work.

The NEA, you see, was founded in 1857, a year before Minnesota even became a state! Wow, who knew that the pioneer spirit among those bespectacled schoolmarms cloaked the spawning of a terrorist organization rustling behind their skirts?

But the rest of Dr. Irwin Shepard's story is worth knowing. He did not hire a substitute for military service in the Union Army in 1862 (which was legal and done by some men) while he was a college student in Ypsilanti, Michigan. Instead, he served in the proud 17th Michigan Infantry, became a sergeant, and was wounded in May 1864 at the battle of the Wilderness, Virginia. And, yes, it's also true that Dr. Shephard was awarded the Medal of Honor for bravery in service during the Siege of Knoxville, Tennessee in the Fall of 1863.

The history of the NEA? Like Dr. Paige said, history really is fascinating.

Is President Bush hearing the voices from the heartland who are asking for Dr. Paige's firing or better, his resignation? Apparently the volume has not increased sufficiently to capture his attention during a time of war concurrent with a time of political campaigning. That's just another problem of a wartime president; he can claim, easily enough, that his time is more urgently needed on foreign affairs, especially when our men and women fall upon the country's call.

But. . . we were a nation with domestic concerns that needed tending long before we went on pilgrimage for WMD in Iraq and with or without the leadership of President Bush, we will someday resume appropriate attention on domestic affairs like Education once again. The pendulum cannot swing in one sole direction indefinitely. Go ahead, quote me on that.

A recommendation? Earn some political favor while doing the right thing besides -- 'elevate' Dr. Paige to the rolls of History by helping him become a former Secretary of Education. Yes, it's time to "Turn the Page on Paige."

Then. . . appoint Secretary number 8 in his place. If you need suggestions, get out of Washington, D.C., Camp David, or Crawford, Texas and talk to the rest of us. See, you just have to think of us as trusted advisors; we won't let you down.