There seems to be a growing refrain from leftist critics of Donald Trump and his choices for cabinet-level secretaries in his new administration: that there are too many outsiders coming into government.
Set aside the delicious irony of the party that had no problem with an inexperienced senator and community organizer becoming president just a few years ago, and sink your teeth into the absurdity of the criticism for a moment.
Liberals, desperate to attack the incoming Trump administration, have descended upon a few of his picks — specifically and most vociferously Rex Tillerson, Betsy DeVos and Andy Puzder — as being somehow unfit for the positions they are about to hold because, well, they “don’t have experience.”
For Tillerson, the refrain has been that he has no diplomatic experience, has no knowledge of the State Department, and doesn’t have the necessary background to be the country’s chief diplomat. Nevermind that the candidate Democrats just ran for president became secretary of state with no true diplomatic experience or State Department background at all. No, now we should be concerned because Tillerson has no inside-the-beltway experience.
DeVos, whom I defended in my column last week, has probably been the recipient of the most savage attacks on her background. The thing that seems to most offend the leftists is — and I’m not kidding — the fact that she was never a teacher, and she didn’t go to public schools.
To her critics, the lack of “perspective” in having never been a teacher is a mortal sin. You see, in order to lead a massive bureaucracy and undertake a wholesale reform to this nation’s education system, you need the “compassion” of “understanding” what teachers go through on a day-to-day basis. That, somehow will give you the perspective necessary to do a good job. Since she doesn’t have that specific experience, she apparently will have no idea what she’s doing.
And of course, Puzder, the nominee for labor secretary, is not an insider either. He is, rather, somebody who was on the other side, and had to live with the decisions made by pinheads in Washington as he ran the business that operates the fast-food outlets Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr.
How can any of these people be effective if they aren’t “experienced” and haven’t taken part on the “inside” of the system?
I find the criticism of DeVos for not being a teacher and not participating in the public school system to be the most snobbish and obnoxious. As if somehow being on the inside of that broken system provides you with the necessary insight to fix it?
Ask most teachers what education law they hate the most, and you are likely to hear “No Child Left Behind” — though, admittedly, Common Core is starting to be heard more often.
It might befuddle some of these critics to know that Rod Paige, George W. Bush’s secretary of education in his first term, had that very “inside” career pathway. He rose from being a classroom teacher to become a college dean and school superintendent all the way up the ladder to secretary of education.
How did that help him craft No Child Left Behind? Did it somehow make him smarter than an outsider to the system and his chosen policy (supported by Ted Kennedy and President Bush) better? Indeed, the development of No Child Left Behind drew in part on the successes of the Houston Independent School District, under Paige’s leadership.
This issue is truly quite simple. Some think that, somehow, understanding and connecting with established order — be it in the State Department, Department of Education, Department of Labor, or anywhere else — provides you a better understanding of how to lead that department.
I think it shackles you to the status quo, groupthink, conventional wisdom and, most of all, resistance to change.
Experience and knowledge of the workings of the established order are, in fact, positive things we should want in government. But too much conventional thinking and experience can suffocate positive governance.
I want my secretary of state to have a logical, thoughtful, and just foreign policy and the ability to execute it. Though I oppose the Department of Education and want to see it eliminated, if we must have it, I want my secretary of education to have kinship with the kids trapped in the horrendous, underperforming schools of this country, and help to free them from that black hole of failure.
Where they come from doesn’t matter, and in fact I believe having an outside perspective is a net benefit to government. So do Democrats. Or at least, they did when they were in charge.