Tuesday, May 29, 2007

We are the Youth Gone Wild

TNR's Benjamin Wittes observes that young people like Monica Goodling ascended to positions higher than were deserved partly due to scarcity:

The conservative legal youth culture is not difficult to explain. The elite legal academy is overwhelmingly liberal, and conservatism is something of a subculture within it. The talent pool of first-rate conservatives it produces is consequently smaller than the talent pool of elite liberals.


The conservative legal youth culture was by no means the only culprit in their ascents. Also contributing was the flabbiness that can overtake an administration in its second term.

True enough, but the pervasiveness of unqualified appointments throughout the Bush administration suggests other factors counted for more. Goodling's own illegal actions in screening attorney candidates showed yet again that partisan loyalty and ideological purity outweighed talent and competence. How paradoxical, given that so many people became conservatives because of its insistence on meritocracy.

Age is also a factor for a simple arithmetic reason: young appointees have a longer life ahead of them to make an impact. This is especially true of lifetime appointments - surely John Roberts' age was significant in his nomination to the Supreme Court - but even in political jobs, early experience confers a substantial long-term career advantage.

It's easy to make Monica Goodling the villain here. She did a horrible thing. But she also had no people...looking over her shoulder, people..."who are older, who have done it before, ... who know why we did it a different way."

Whose fault is that?

Perhaps I'm naive in seeing Goodling as delusional rather than stupid or malevolent. Actually, that's how I see most members of this administration. Wittes is wrong to absolve her of guilt, but there is plenty of blame to go around.

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