The other day, I wrote about the need to study the qualifications of presidential appointees. I noted how Obama’s choice for head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, unlike Bush’s guy, Michael Brown, actually had decades of experience in precisely this area. However, before we start assuming that Obama only appoints people based on credentials, let’s look at this humorous, if slightly disturbing, New York Times profile of the his pick to head the Department of Transportation:
Ray LaHood, the secretary of transportation, is not one to toot his own horn over how much he knows about planes, trains and automobile bailouts. On the contrary.
“I don’t think they picked me because they thought I’d be that great a transportation person,” Mr. LaHood says with refreshing indifference as to how this admission might play if, say, he were ever to bungle a bridge collapse. . . .
[O]ne of the astonishing things about Mr. LaHood, 63, is how limited his transportation résumé is, how little excitement he exudes on the subject (other than about high-speed rail) and how little he seems to care who knows it. So why exactly did President Obama pick this former seven-term Republican congressman from Illinois to oversee everything that moves?
Mr. LaHood posits a theory. “They picked me because of the bipartisan thing,” he explained, “and the Congressional thing, and the friendship thing.”
The “bipartisan thing” and the “Congressional thing” are self-evident: Mr. LaHood is a Republican with close ties to Capitol Hill. One White House insider described Mr. LaHood as “a master of odd jobs,” whose knowledge of Washington allows him to take on assignments as varied as lobbying lawmakers on the budget and helping political novices in the cabinet navigate Beltway social rituals (“cocktail situations,” as Energy Secretary Steven Chu calls them).
On and on goes this extremely entertaining article, noting that LaHood is a former junior high school social studies teacher who happily offers that he doesn’t really feel strongly about any issues. He was, however, on the House Transportation Committee. So, no great shakes, no great relevant qualifications, but openly referred to as a good guy to have around.
Despite the obvious question of how important it actually is that the top dog in each department be a whiz and a dynamo, at least the candor surrounding LaHood is a welcome change from the deceit of the last eight years.