For one thing, a columnist leaves a paper trail. At Senate confirmation hearings, old rants stupidities that seemed a good idea at the time come back from the dead and cause trouble. That will be a problem for Linda Chavez.
In one of her careers, Chavez has been a columnist. She has done what a columnist does: advanced provocative, impolitic ideas. She has shot off her mouth in the way that a mindful, foresighted and rump-covering politician would not. Chavez has shown a talent for infuriating liberals for example, deriding "crybabies" for bringing certain sexual harassment lawsuits.
A paper trail of cracks against the pieties against a higher minimum wage, against the concept of a woman-thwarting "glass ceiling" in business, against affirmative action, against bilingual education is not going to make life easy for Chavez in confirmation hearings for her in-your-face appointment as secretary of labor.
Big labor is ambitious to sink Chavez. Her past work as columnist gives them a supply of torpedoes. Ambassador Joseph P. Kennedy knew what he was doing when he warned his boys, Never write anything down.
The business about the illegal Guatemalan who lived in Chavez's house will not help. Perhaps Chavez is being set up as the designated sacrifice the ritual victim whose rejection will be intended to warn the new Bush administration against more conservative Supreme Court appointments later in the game. The dogs Bork, the caravan moves on.
Apparently Senate collegiality will get John Ashcroft safely through to the post of attorney general, and I would guess Gale Norton will make it as secretary of the interior, despite the taint of her having been a protégée of James Watt, the egregious lulu who served as Ronald Reagan's interior secretary; Watt did not worry much about the environment, since he believed that the biblical Armageddon was just around the corner and would presently moot all controversies over oil drilling, logging and other worldly trifles.
But Chavez (admittedly a borderline case, never a full-time career columnist) is a different matter. She is, I would argue, a vivid warning to other columnists: Don't try to cross the line.
It's a one-way street. A Cabinet officer may become a columnist, a commentator, a talking head. Even Henry Kissinger in his day the greatest Cabinet-rank manipulator of columnists now impersonates one from time to time. But it doesn't work in the other direction. Right brain, left brain, different purposes. Pat Buchanan has exhausted himself going back and forth across the line. There's something almost unsanitary in trying to turn a columnist into a public official or politician.
Fish gotta swim, birds gotta fly. Bloviators are not amphibious. Imagine being governed by columnists, commentators and talk show hosts. Envision a Cabinet consisting of Sam Donaldson, Cokie Roberts, Don Imus, Robert Novak, George Will, Tim Russert, Eleanor Clift, Peter Jennings, Bill O'Reilly, Chris Matthews, Maureen Dowd, John McLaughlin, Ollie North, Mort Kondracke, Jack Germond, Bill Press, Oprah Winfrey, Jerry Springer all shouting at once, interrupting one another, sneering, one-upping, gesticulating, rolling their eyes, looking for all the world like a classroom full of first graders waving their hands, all seized at the same time by a desperate urgency to get to the boys' and girls' rooms. Not even President Limbaugh could get them to shut up.
See what I mean? Having a talk show host as president would be almost as crazy as putting a movie star in the White House.