Monica Goodling, Politics, and Adult Supervision

Steven Taylor has two posts (here and here) on the revelations from yesterday’s testimony by former DoJ official Monica Goodling.

Aside from the obvious points about how it would be nice to have the people in charge of enforcing federal laws actually obey those laws, he makes a point many seem to miss:

I remember during the Clinton administration an ongoing theme amongst conservative commentators: a desire for “adults” to be in charge. How anyone who criticized the Clinton cabinet and staff for being overly immature can now defend this situation as anything other than a bunch of juveniles in charge of a key federal bureaucracy is beyond me.

Quite right. I heard a bit of her testimony late yesterday afternoon on the way in to a function in D.C. and it struck me that, moreso than being part of a sinister plot to politicize that which by law is supposed to be above partisan politics, she was simply in over her head.

Many of us rightly criticized Bill Clinton for filling key spots with under-35 wunderkinds with degrees from Oxford and the Ivies, who seemed to view governance as an extension of the dorm room bull sessions. From Cheney to Rumsfeld to Wolfowitz to Powell to Rice, Bush took the opposite approach, putting in people whose resumes were manifestly superb for the positions for which they were chosen (whatever one thinks of their subsequent performance). Unfortunately, from the administration of Iraq to the important second tier appointments, Bush went with the likes of Brownie, Goodling, and Harriet Miers.

Loyalty to the boss, the party, and their ideology is a reasonable enough expectation for executive appointees. The president has to be able to delegate day-to-day running of agencies to these people and to have faith in them. But, surely, there are plenty of people who fit that profile who are also actually competent and experienced?

The idea that a person applying for a senior career position would be interviewed by some kid in her early 30s with a dubious law degree and manifestly inferior qualifications to their own is simply insulting. And, to certainly, it’s no way to run a railroad.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. – Carry on America – Politics for thick skin. SPOT Report – US defense de-mystified. Carnival Knowledge – Law and life collide. The Reed Report – Campus life revealed. Celebrity Photos – It s not polite to stare. Daily Obits – Notable deaths in the Monica Goodling, Politics, and Adult Supervision Outside Beltway – Tlaloc : Many of us rightly criticized Bill Clinton for filling key spots with under-35 TJIT : Wherever the boot of oppression treads upon the human neck Anjin-San and his moral vacuity Michael : bains, Only I didn t stretch to

  2. vnjagvet says:

    Yeah, James, it is embarrassing, but not that unusual for as long as I have been involved in the Washington scene (since 1960).

    From the days of the Kennedy admin, this is par for the course.

    Not that it is right, of course. Just not unusual.

    Who else but the young are willing to get paid low $$ in exchange for a whiff of power?

  3. Tlaloc says:

    Many of us rightly criticized Bill Clinton for filling key spots with under-35 wunderkinds with degrees from Oxford and the Ivies, who seemed to view governance as an extension of the dorm room bull sessions.

    Rightly?
    I’m not so sure. If the wunderkind turn out to be incompetnet that’s one thing, but there is definitely something to be said for bringing in fresh blood to shake up old calcified institutions.

  4. James Joyner says:

    definitely something to be said for bringing in fresh blood to shake up old calcified institutions

    Agreed. But that’s different from bringing in kids with no experience other than having done well in grad school for senior jobs. Bringing in people with demonstrated success in state and local government, the corporate world, teaching, or the like …. sure. Some kid fresh out of Harvard or Regent? Not so much.

  5. Tlaloc says:

    Some kid fresh out of Harvard or Regent?

    Whoa. Let’s not compare Harvard, one of the best schools in America, with a hack factory like Regent.

    Not the same ballpark.

    Not. Even. The. Same. Sport.

    I do agree with you absolutely about graduates of regent. Their applications should be roundfiled unless graduation was followed up by a couple decades of solid experience. But Ivy league grads? These are some of the best educated kids in the world (discounting the legacies). And the best of them are truly extraordinary.

    Now would I make some 25 year old the National Security Advisor? No, certainly not. But say Secretary of Education or Transportation? If they seemed smart and talented, sure.

  6. Triumph says:

    Many of us rightly criticized Bill Clinton for filling key spots with under-35 wunderkinds with degrees from Oxford and the Ivies… From Cheney to Rumsfeld to Wolfowitz to Powell to Rice, Bush took the opposite approach

    What in the world are you talking about James? What are you comparing here?

    Bush’s VP: Cheney
    Clinton’s VP: Gore

    Experience comparison: more or less equal. Gore had served in the Congress for nearly a decade and a half. Cheney had more executive branch experience, but Gore was certainly no “spring chicken” and had served in leadership positions on a broad array of congressional committees.

    Bush’s Sec. Def: Rumsfeld
    Clinton’s first Sec. Def: Les Aspin

    Experience comparison: more or less equal. Aspin had been in Congress for 12 terms and was long time chair of the House Armed Services Committee. Rummy had been Sec. Def under Ford, but lacked the legislative experience of Aspin.

    Bush’s Deputy Sec. of Def: Wolfowitz
    Clinton’s Dep Sec: William J. Perry

    Experience edge: more or less equal. Wolfie had some lower-level appointments in DoD under Carter, but he mostly spent his career in State and in academia. Perry served as undersecretary of Defense under Carter and had a long career in the private sector relating to defense issues.

    Bush Sec of State: Powell
    Clinton Sec. of State: Warren Christopher

    Experience edge: Christopher by a long shot. Powell had a long career in the military, but his lack of well-roundedness and diplomacy skills led him to being one of the most ineffective Sec. of States. Christopher had a long career in law and had served as both Deputy Attorney General and Deputy Sec. of State in the 70s.

    Bush National Sec Advisor: Condi Rice
    Clinton: Anthony Lake

    Experience edge: Lake by a long shot.

    Rice had basically a couple of middle-level, region-specific jobs at the NSC during Geo. HW> Bush’s presidency. Lake spent 7 years at Dept. of State in the 60s and worked as Director of Policy Planning at State during the Carter administration.

    It should also be pointed out that none of Clinton’s appointees in the offices you compare were “under 35.”

  7. Anderson says:

    Now would I make some 25 year old the National Security Advisor? No, certainly not. But say Secretary of Education or Transportation? If they seemed smart and talented, sure.

    I assume Tlaloc is exaggerating — no 25YO should be running the Department of Anything.

    But I do wish JJ would refresh our memories on the young, incompetent Clinton-admin appointees. Brad DeLong? Who?

  8. James Joyner says:

    Agreed that Harvard is a great school and Regent….not so much. Still, aside from the occasional Bobby Jindal, I wouldn’t make a 25-year-old a cabinet secretary. There’s something to be said for actual life experience.

    And I don’t care how smart you are, senior professionals are going to resent taking orders from someone who wasn’t born when they started their career.

  9. James Joyner says:

    Triumph: That was poorly written. While I would argue that Bush’s senior officials were more experienced than Clinton’s, including those listed, in ways that mattered for their chosen jobs, all I meant to convey was that, beneath a veneer of highly talented elders, there was a lot of young hacks.

    Anderson: Aside from Stephanopoulous, who actually did a pretty good job once he got his legs under him, I can’t think of any offhand. It was a widespread conception, though, even by insiders like the then-33-year-old Bruce Reed.

  10. Triumph says:

    all I meant to convey was that, beneath a veneer of highly talented elders, there was a lot of young hacks.

    Ok, although, who were these “young hacks” that were in similar positions of authority as someone like Goodling? My recollection is that these were unfounded charges made by disgruntled critics.

  11. Tano says:

    I’m sorry James, but I agree with commenters above that your comparisons are ridiculous. Sure there were young people in the Clinton administration and the media focused on them sufficiently (and enemies played that up) to give an impression of unseriousness. Most of it was in service to their underlying theme, that this young president was somehow unserious. But it all melts away into pure spin once you look at it closely.

    Triumph lists some of the obvious posts that you used. How about others. Were Bentsen, Rubin, Summers unserious people for Treasury? Whatever you think of Janet Reno, she was not young, nor unserious. Babbit at Interior? Tenet and Freeh – once again, aside from their performance, hardly unserious or unqualified.

    I think they actually had an ideal mix of young and old, in their appropriate places.

    The main difference between the parties is simple. The Dems believe that government can serve a useful purpose in society, so when they come to power, they bring a serious attitude toward trying to run the government well. Granted, there are always people who lack the capacity to be serious or competent, but in general, the Dems aim to be so, and mostly succeed.
    The Republicans do not believe in government. Once they assume power, the tendency is to undermine the work of their agency as much as to advance it. Proudly doing the job better than it has been done before is not a concept that is central to thier thinking.

    In such an environment, where there is no real overarching vision for what good can be done with the government, it is inevitable that before too long the political appointees will begin to focus on some narrow personal or partisan agenda – using the government to advance the interests of their party, or to line thier own pockets.

  12. floyd says:

    Tano; If only you were right! That would give those of us, who are generally competent to run our own lives with minimal government interference, someone to vote for.
    Unfortunately we are stuck with the Republicans instead! [lol]

  13. one bit shy says:

    I think the analogy is fine. It’s just an entrance way into understanding something important about Bush’s hires. For that purpose it gets across the idea. It doesn’t really matter how accurate a description of Clinton’s crew it is. Bush’s crew is the topic.

    The manifestation of this in Goodling appears to be that she’s too quick to push boundaries of ethical behavior that she shouldn’t. Likely not because she’s inherently unethical, but because she lacks the experience to fully grasp the implications until they bite her. Her behavior isn’t terribly unusual for the young and aggressive when handed power they’ve never wielded before. I wouldn’t be surprised if much of what she did was done by her own initiative, working from far less specific direction.

    The question we’d like to know the answer to is how aware of what she was doing were the people who really do grasp those implications. Did Goodling err on her own? Or was that why she was put there to begin with – primed to find a way to push too hard while leaving the hands of her superiors clean.

    On the other hand, considering how oafish the likes of Gonzales and Miers have been over time, I’m not sure these people have the sophistication to make that kind of play.