ROOM AT THE TOP

Frenzied activity is the order of the month in Washington, in New York, and across the Bible Belt too. Resumes are being polished, hair trimmed, and scripts memorized. It is quadrennial job-hunting season for the strivers and self-promoters with an eye peeled for the big opportunity to land a slot in the soon-to-be Biden administration. Most have been prepping for years in the holding pens at think tanks, law firms, universities and consultancies. Now they are chomping at the bit. Minds have been scrubbed of anything that might snag on the gates that guard the corridors of power. Prospective high-flyers, in particular, have made sure that their views mold themselves to those of the insiders like a pair of jeans soaked in the bath. Wedge in a quarter and you can make out the date. 

The competition itself is so keen as to conjure images of the Oklahoma land rush or a stampede on the Chisolm Trail. Key to a successful campaign is networking – at full tilt. The personal touch (active or passive) is what it is all about. John Podesta’s email or cell phone is equivalent to the Holy Grail. 

This uncouth free-for-all has not recorded much been success in stocking the federal government with the wisest and most dedicated public servants. It does remain deeply entrenched in American political culture, though, despite the serial policy disasters that have beset us. Still, hope for the Republic springs eternal. So here is a suggested alternative for selecting those who will rule us-the-people. 

It is modeled on America Has Talent, the TV show that invites whomever to display their talents before a panel of qualified judges. Let us imagine a truly open, nation-wide search to find those most suited to assuming the powers of high office. Separate competitions for the Secretary of Treasury, Secretary of State, Secretary of Defense, Attorney General, National Security Adviser, Director of the CIA, and Director of the FBI. 

Self-nominated aspirants would have 4 minutes each to a) state their qualifications; and b) present a policy brief on some pending matter awaiting decision in their realm of responsibility.  The judges’ panel, who set the topics, would be charged with choosing the most promising candidates to advance from Preliminary, to Quarter Final, Semi Final and Final stages. Each contestant who advances will be required to present a progressively more elaborate policy analysis. The winners would be determined by popular vote of all adult citizens of the United States.  

Many are called; few are Chosen 

The text represents the point of view of the author

Michael Brenner

Michael Brenner

Michael Brenner is Professor of International Affairs Emeritus at the
University of Pittsburgh and Fellow of the Center for Transatlantic
Relations SAIS/John Hopkins. His articles on international affairs and
public policy have appeared in International Affairs, SURVIVAL, Foreign
Policy, World Politics, Politique Étrangère (Paris) and Internationale
Politik (Berlin). He also is the author of Terms of Engagement: The
United States and The European Security Identity,
Washington, D.C: Center for Strategic and International Studies),
and Toward A More Independent Europe. Egmont Paper,
Brussels: Royal Institute of International Relations, Professor
Brenner has held previous teaching and research appointments at
Cornell, Stanford, MIT, Harvard and the Brookings Institution.

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