One of the bestselling books of the 1970s was “The Peter Principle,” a business management book by Laurence J. Peter and Raymond Hull.
The book’s premise, in a nutshell, was that people get promotions based on their performance in their previous jobs until they are ultimately elevated to a position in which they’re incompetent, since skills and success in one position don’t necessarily ensure success in the next. “In a hierarchy,” Peter said, “every employee tends to rise to his level of incompetence.”
Put another way, as the disclaimers say in investment brokers’ ads: “Past performance is no guarantee of future results.”
Both Peter and Hull are long since deceased. Still, if publisher William Morrow & Co. were to commission someone to update a new edition of the book, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre could be cited as Exhibit C of the “Peter Principle” at the highest levels of government. (President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris would be Exhibits A and B, but that’s another story for another day.)
Coincidentally, “Pierre” is French for “Peter.”
Today, the “Peter Principle” phenomenon is called “failing upward.” In Jean-Pierre’s case, that’s reflected in her work for the short-lived Democratic presidential campaigns of John Edwards in 2004 and Martin O’Malley in 2016.
The most glaring evidence that Jean-Pierre, 48, has been promoted to her level of incompetence as White House press secretary is her near-total dependence on a binder full of administration talking points, which she often reads from directly at her daily news briefings for the White House press corps.
It’s one thing for a press secretary to have notes for reference. It’s quite another to stare down at them and read those notes all but verbatim. Whatever else you could say about Jean-Pierre’s predecessor, Jen Psaki, she had the Biden administration’s rote talking points down cold and didn’t depend on extensive notes as a crutch.
Just as an aside, recall how 2012 Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney was ridiculed mercilessly by the talking heads in the liberal media for saying during the second presidential debate that he had “binders full of women.” That was his awkward way of referring to files of résumés of women he would consider for staffing his administration were he to win the election. Many of their “binder” jokes snarkily suggested that the squeaky-clean Romney was engaged in some form of BDSM with those women.
By contrast, as far as we know, none of those same talking heads have ridiculed Jean-Pierre’s dependence on her press briefing binders.
Nor have the liberal media (or the late-night TV comics) noted, much less ridiculed, how on at least four separate occasions in recent months, Jean-Pierre has mispronounced or mangled words and phrases in the course of her press briefings.
On Dec. 13, Jean-Pierre touted “bicarmel” support in Congress for the so-called Respect for Marriage Act. “Bicarmel, bipartisan support was had for this piece of legislation,” she said.
But this was no one-off slip of the tongue: She used the term “bicarmel” three times to describe it in the course of the half-hour press briefing. It should have been “bicameral,” of course, meaning support in both chambers of Congress.
The official White House transcript of the briefing was dishonestly corrected in all three instances to “bicameral” with no indication that it was not an accurate reflection of what was actually said.
On Nov. 28, in congratulating three Americans who had won Nobel Prizes in chemistry, physics, and economics, she mispronounced “Nobel” five times in 40 seconds as “noble.”
Two months to the day earlier, on Sept. 28, Jean-Pierre said that as part of Harris’ then-pending trip to South Korea, the veep would visit the demilitarized zone between the two Koreas. Jean-Pierre helpfully noted that it had been “nearly 70 years since the Korean ‘armtis’”—presumably not to be confused with the Korean armistice.
Three weeks before that, on Sept. 6, Jean-Pierre conflated a Russian natural gas pipeline with an upscale American department store chain. She accused Russia of causing an energy crisis in Europe by shutting down its Nord Stream 1 pipeline, which she referred to as the “Nordstrom 1” pipeline.
One can only imagine how former President Donald Trump’s press secretary Kayleigh McEnany would have been pilloried by the White House press corps had she made those sorts of repeated verbal gaffes.
One could surmise that the reason Jean-Pierre still has the high-visibility press secretary’s job, to which she was elevated May 13, despite all of the gaffes, is because Biden is legendary for his own innumerable gaffes. He couldn’t very well hold her to a higher standard.
But the real reason Jean-Pierre remains in the post today is because of the identity politics to which the Biden administration and the Democratic Party have sworn undying allegiance. She is immune from criticism—and from reassignment to a less high-profile post—only because she checks all of the boxes of “intersectionality” as a woman and as the first black and first LGBTQ White House press secretary.
In the Biden administration, Jean-Pierre demonstrates daily that meritocracy is an afterthought—if it’s thought of at all.
This column first appeared at The Washington Times.
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