Correcting Krugman’s Nonsense

Robert Moffit /

New York Times columnist Paul Krugman was less than honest when he totally misrepresented my 2001 essay, “Taking Charge of Federal Personnel.”

My point was simple: To achieve significant change, a president needs key appointees dedicated to pursuing his vision and mandate, not entrenched D.C. “wise men” intent on pursuing policies that reflect their own “expert” views.

To promote his own “expert” view that the Bush Administration was unqualified to govern, Krugman lifts a sentence fragment from my essay and places it in a false context. Yes, I urged then President-elect Bush to “make appointments based on loyalty first and expertise second.” But Krugman presents this as evidence of “contempt for expertise.” Nonsense!

“Expertise cannot be ignored,” I stated. But picking appointees “merely [emphasis added] in terms of expert qualifications can be disastrous for an Administration genuinely committed to change….”

A loyal policy executive should seek out and listen to the expertise of the permanent civil service. But these experts tend to be change resistant, because (my essay notes) they are already “part of the status quo–the permanent government.”

Obama’s early picks for top posts have disheartened many of his supporters precisely because he seems to be recycling the same “experts” from the Clinton era. No one advocates loyalty to the exclusion of expertise. But if President-elect Obama truly intends to pursue “change,” he’ll need to fill the top policy slots with non-careerists who personally share his vision of the future.

That’s the point of my essay. It was good advice in 2001, and it’s good advice now.