Like most non-Americans, I find the politics of that country complicated, bizarre and sordid, without actually being very interesting. So I don’t read about the subject very much.
But occasionally I come across something that piques my professional reflexes. Recently, it’s been hard to ignore all the stories about the problems Obama has, even now, in filling some senior positions in his government.
That’s not a problem most countries experience. It’s recognised that political leaders may arrive with some immediate supporters in tow, but the actual business of day-to-day government is generally handled by professional experts with a lifetime of experience. In America, by contrast, thousands of top government jobs are dispensed at the pleasure of the President, to ideological allies, personal friends, or campaign contributors, usually without any experience. This would be a bad enough system if it worked, but in fact it doesn’t even work properly, because the American parliament, the Congress, can block many of these appointments if it wants to; and it appears to want to.
But, to repeat, even if the system “works” it’s a bad system. It fills the higher ranks of American government with amateurish, careerist transients who are already thinking of a plum job in the private sector when they move on. It creates and sustains a pervasive atmosphere of incompetence and corruption, and virtually ensures that, in the clash of egos and money that results, bad decisions will be made, without any thought for the longer term.
Worse, perhaps, American civil servants – who are as good, frankly, as any in the world – become cynical and demotivated. They know that, however good they are, they won’t get the top jobs. The job they really want will go to That Guy from a bank that contributed lots of money to the election campaign, even if That Guy needs a diagram to help him get from the car park to his office.
If there’s one thing you could do to make America a better run state, and a better partner for the rest of the world, it would be to send out the clowns, and let the professionals take over.