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The Airing of Grievances
Monday, December 13, 2004
 
Is Bland Better Than The Best and Brightest?
Listen, more than just about anyone, I'm very happy to see Rudy Giulani getting some egg plastered all over his "Blame The Troops" face. That being said, I do wonder if the fall of Bernard Kerik should be viewed as a victory for the left or as a loss for all of America, especially New York. As for New York, I have a hard time envisioning another individual (that Bush may appoint) who would have a better grasp of the unique security problems facing The City. As for America, I wonder if this destruction of public officials for past indiscretions is an appropriate course for us to continue to follow -- a theme covered in this piece by John P. Avalon. Here's a taste:

We're disqualifying eminently qualified people from public life because they haven't filled out all the necessary forms when paying their babysitter or conducted an extensive background check on household help. That is absurd. In the larger scheme of life, it is at most a misdemeanor - an innocent mistake that should not rear its head years later to derail careers....

The intense glare of public scrutiny and societal double standards already puts many young people off the notion of entering public service - the risk to reputation is seen to far exceed the rewards. Conversely, do we want to leave the door open only to those ambitious people who think defensively about every detail of their daily lives so that they might serve in government decades in the future?
Now, you could say that Avalon has oversimplified the issue with respect to Kerik, as there seems to be more than simply Nannygate that led to his demise. But putting aside any arguments concerning Kerik's transgressions, I wholeheartedly agree with Avalon's overall point. As he correctly notes, the amazing amount of scrutiny of one's past is a huge deterrent for anyone considering getting involved in public service. As such, a large universe of extremely talented individuals, who just may have done a few bad or wild things in their day, are completely disqualified from even attempting to enter the upper echelons of public life. Is that a good thing? I say no.

At some point, we need to realize that what's done is done and what's past it past. We need to focus on the present, and allow those most qualified to get the job done now, do it now. As I think of all of this, I'm reminded of the whole kerfuffle over Bush and Kerry's military service (or lack thereof). We spent so much time on what these guys did thirty years ago, rather than focusing on what they planned to, and could do, now. To me, an almost criminal waste of time. Of course, there should always be some degree of accountability for past conduct, but the question is, at what point is enough enough? Seems to me that things have long since been passed enough, and sooner, rather than later, need to be reeled in.
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