The “brightest” if not the best

The Washington Post
reports that “of Obama’s top 35 appointments so far, 22 have degrees from an Ivy League school, MIT, Stanford, the University of Chicago or one of the top British universities.” Moreover, “for the other slots, the president-elect made do with graduates of Georgetown and the Universities of Michigan, Virginia and North Carolina.”

The debate over the wisdom of assembling and relying on this sort of group is familiar and somewhat sterile. Post reporter Alec MacGillis rehearses that debate in a reasonably balanced fashion.

But MacGillis loses his balance when he claims that “while Bush brought in a few academics, such as former Stanford provost Condoleezza Rice, he relied heavily on his Texas associates and business executives outside the Ivy League echelons he encountered in his schooling.” In effect, MacGillis is now comparing apples and oranges. For Obama, his focus is one where his advisors got their degrees; for Bush it is whether they are academics and whether he met them at an Ivy League school. MacGillis goes on to note:

Bush’s first Treasury secretary, Paul H. O’Neill, went to Fresno State, Vice President Cheney dropped out of Yale before graduating from the University of Wyoming, and strategist Karl Rove never finished college. Dozens of administration members hail from Regent University, founded by Pat Robertson. And many of Bush’s hires were friends from Texas, such as former attorney general Alberto R. Gonzales, former White House counsel Harriet E. Miers and Education Secretary Margaret Spellings.

He thus claims that, in “contrast” to Bush, Obama intends to bring “smart people into the room as possible and hear[] them out.

But MacGillis is cherry-picking (to mix my fruit metaphors). Judge Gonzalez graduated from Harvard Law School. And MacGillis chooses to ignore the following examples: Don Rumsfeld (Princeton); Steven Hadley (Cornell, Yale Law School); Elaine Chao (Harvard MBA); John Ashcroft (Yale, University of Chicago Law School); Spencer Abraham (Harvard Law School); Scooter Libby (Yale, Columbia Law School); David Addington (Georgetown; Duke Law School); Mitch Daniels (Princeton); Josh Bolten (Princeton, Stanford Law School); Henry Paulson (Dartmouth, Harvard MBA); Ben Bernanke (Harvard, MIT Ph.d); Cam Findlay (Northwestern University, Oxford, Harvard Law School); Alex Azar (Dartmouth, Yale Law School); Andy Card (Harvard Kennedy School of Government); Paul Wolfowitz (Cornell, University of Chicago, plus Yale faculty); Douglas Feith (Harvard, Georgetown Law School); Jim Haynes (Harvard Law School).

Obama’s reliance on advisors from “all the best schools” is probably worth noting. But the suggestion Bush’s selections showed an anti-intellectual or anti-elite slant does not withstand scrutiny.

SCOTT adds: Don’t miss Joseph Epstein’s Weekly Standard article “Obama’s good students,” quoted in the Washington Post article discussed by Paul.

JOHN adds: Nominees to senior posts in the executive branch are normally in their forties, fifties and sixties. One would think the Post could come up with more pertinent information about how they might perform in office than the names of the schools they attended decades ago.

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