Author: Chimene Keitner


Smart Power

Back in November, David Brooks published an op-ed in The New York Times in which he dubbed the incoming Obama Administration a “valedictocracy,” citing the advanced degrees of many of Obama’s advisers and expected appointees. This approach of embracing educational qualifications stands in stark contrast to the attitude conveyed in George W. Bush’s 2001 commencement address at Yale, in which the then-President reassured “the C students” that “you, too, can be President of the United States,” and added that “if you drop out [like Dick Cheney], you get to be Vice President.”

Ivy League credentials are certainly no guarantee of effective leadership, sound judgment, or wise policy, let alone ability (or inclination) accurately to complete one’s tax returns. But there is a sense in which this Administration is re-valuing the skills of sophisticated and nuanced reflection that higher education, at its best, is designed to promote.

Here, as many of you know, are some folks to keep an eye on, to see how they manage the transition (or re-transition) from academic analyst to government advisor and decision-maker:

To head the State Department Policy Planning Staff: Anne-Marie Slaughter, Dean of Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs

To the Solicitor General’s Office: Elena Kagan, Dean of Harvard Law School, and Neal Katyal, Professor of Law at Georgetown

To the Office of Legal Counsel: Dawn Johnsen, Professor of Law at Indiana University—Bloomington, David Barron, Professor of Law at Harvard, and Marty Lederman, Professor of Law at Georgetown

To the Office of Counsel to the President, a/k/a the White House Counsel’s Office: Daniel Meltzer, Professor of Law at Harvard, and Trevor Morrison, Professor of Law at Columbia

Many of Obama’s appointees are noteworthy not only for their academic credentials, but also for having promoted approaches to issues of foreign policy and executive power that diverge sharply in many instances from those of their predecessors. As the new Administration balances the politics of repudiation (signaling a sharp break with the prior Administration’s values and priorities) with the repudiation of politics (promoting a unified vision of the national interest and the collective efforts required to pursue it), it will be interesting to monitor the extent to which some of these sharp differences in theory translate into palpable differences in practice.


Minding the Gap

While the U.S. Congress moves towards enacting the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act and the Paycheck Fairness Act, which Tristin recently blogged about here, a U.K. think tank has released a report aimed at debunking the notion that discrimination accounts for gender disparities in pay. The Institute for Economic Affairs, whose mission is to find “ways of reducing the government’s role in our lives,” reports that differences in earnings can be accounted for most centrally by the fact that “[m]ales and females make different choices in the labor market, in terms of the trade-off between pay and other job characteristics, choice of education, choice of occupation and attitudes to work.” As stated in the Foreword, “the free choice of men and women who are seeking employment—as well as earlier educational choices and the choices they make regarding their domestic arrangements—are at the heart of differences in pay levels.” This account echoes the argument often deployed by employers facing claims of race discrimination, namely, that minorities simply aren’t interested in higher-paying, more secure jobs.

Why does this argument, which seems so easy to dismiss in the context of race discrimination, strike some as more plausible when it comes to women’s labor market “choices”? Enter Jill Lepore, who recently published an article in The New Yorker about the role of breast pumps in addressing the “Human Milk Gap.” Lepore reports:

One big reason so many women stop breast-feeding is that more than half of mothers of infants under six months old go to work. The 1993 Family and Medical Leave Act guarantees only twelve weeks of (unpaid) maternity leave and, in marked contrast to established practice in other industrial nations, neither the government nor the typical employer offers much more. To follow a doctor’s orders, a woman who returns to work twelve weeks after childbirth has to find a way to feed her baby her own milk for another nine months. The nation suffers, in short, from a Human Milk Gap.

There are three ways to bridge that gap: longer maternity leaves, on-site infant child care, and pumps. Much effort has been spent implementing option No. 3, the cheap way out.

Lepore asks, “is it the mother, or her milk, that matters more to the baby?” She suggests that pumps allow us to avoid addressing this important social question and its policy implications.

Juxtaposing these perspectives suggests that, in a variety of contexts, it can be useful to reflect on what we mean when we talk about women’s “choices,” and how we fail to recognize the ways in which many women’s choices are constrained.


All I Really Need To Know…

Many thanks to Concurring Opinions for the invitation to blog this month, even if my creating this “electronic paper trail” could significantly complicate the process of completing an application for a job in the Obama administration! I look forward to the opportunity to offer thoughts on a variety of current topics, particularly those with international implications. Today, I thought I’d start on the lighter side and closer to home, with a post inspired by Robert Fulghum’s 1988 blockbuster, All I Really Need To Know I Learned In Kindergarten. As the parent of a toddler, I’ve noticed that fundamental advocacy and negotiation skills seem to develop even earlier. So, courtesy of our three-year-old, here is a quick refresher on negotiations for those who find themselves making deals in the new year, followed by some reflections on law and governance…

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