Obama's Cabinet Candidates: Harvard Rules and Wisdom Wanes

Because Obama is himself reflective, people conclude he can afford to surround himself with reckless brilliance. Not. He needs cabinet officers who are equally apt judges of people and policy.
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Americans seem mesmerized by the emerging list of potential cabinet members being interviewed for jobs. Brilliant! Assertive! "The Genius Cabinet" gushes Slate writer Jacob Weisberg. Larry Summers? Wow! Joel Klein? Whew!

Calm down, folks. What's wanted in anyone's cabinet is not brilliance but judgment. Not genius but wisdom. And the former is a lousy predictor of the latter. Like Summers and Klein, a number of the wannabes are arrogant and unlistening. Known for what they know and where they went to school (like Harvard and Yale).

Summers folded as Harvard's President not because he said something politically incorrect about women (too baby-obsessed to be good scientists) or tried to tell one of America's leading public intellectuals (Cornel West) how to be a "good" scholar, but because he was seen as dismissive of faculty, indifferent to contrarian ideas and unwilling to listen to others - traits he had shown during his tenure with the Clinton administration.

Joel Klein's career as chief education honcho for New York City has been marked by a similar disrespect for teachers and parents, and a techno-corporate approach to education that, while putatively wedded to equal opportunity, has been completely tone-deaf to the communities he supposedly serves. He knows a lot and knows it. But he lacks elementary judgment.

President Obama will be in need of counselors with wisdom as well as smarts, and will quickly learn that arrogance isn't merely a "defect of a superior mind" (as Weisberg puts it), but a form of deafness that incapacitates the hubristic for leadership. Oedipus was smart as they come, but, as I recall, made a terrible king.

Because Obama is himself reflective, patient and thoughtful, people conclude he can afford to surround himself with reckless brilliance. Not. He needs cabinet officers who are equally apt judges of people and policy. Shouting is not strength and self-promotion is not perception.

And what's with the Harvard thing? All but a few of those being discussed for office have secured degrees at Harvard (or the Harvard default school, Yale). Not even Oxford and Cambridge any longer pretend to produce Britain's ruling class by themselves. Should Harvard and Yale dictate who serves democratic (and Democratic) America?

Seriously Mr. President-Elect, though you're a Harvard man, you are from Chicago and points West, all the way to Kansas, Hawaii and Indonesia. One of the benefits of your election ought to be a holiday from self-promoting Harvard "brilliance." How about a few public school and public (state) university appointments? Take it from someone with a Harvard M.A. and Ph.D., the Ivies don't have a monopoly on wisdom. Or even necessarily know what it is.

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