Saturday, January 10, 2009

Put Not All Your China In Cabinets

Ben Stein, who wrote speeches for Presidents Nixon and Ford, reflects on the Cabinet meetings he attended early in 38's term:
The Ford cabinet experience was educational. The men and women in the room, high-ranking White House officials and secretaries of cabinet departments, were pleasant and well briefed. But they struck me as similar to small-town Rotary Club members or Junior Chamber of Commerce officials — polite and cordial, but far from rocket scientists. They were just high-average to B+ status, with the exception of some supersmart types like Henry Kissinger....

The Obama people could be wonderful, smart people, an order of magnitude above what I saw at the Ford cabinet meetings. Obviously, many people believe that they are.

But they are just human beings, albeit in some cases human beings with glowing résumés. I do not see the supermen and superwomen. They do not have the gift of foresight. They have never been in a situation like this, at least not exactly. There is simply no good reason to believe they will get it right except by trial and error, turning the tumblers until the safe eventually opens. The problems we face now are so large that they humble the average and the above average and even the very much above average.

High-level bureaucrats, like high-level professors or doctors or investment bankers or baseball pitchers, are just people, whether serving with Bush 43 or Barack Obama or anyone else. I can vividly recall leaving those long-ago cabinet meetings and saying to myself as I walked across West Executive Avenue, “Put not your trust in princes.” It’s a proverb for a good reason — then, now, and always.

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