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:
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.