No Skills Required

A scandal broke out shortly after Senator Barack Obama was elected President in 2008.  It involved the then-governor of his home state and the Senate seat that the President-Elect was vacating.  Then-Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich was caught trying to sell Obama’s vacated Senate seat.  He even tried to enlist the assistance of the incoming administration, which evidence pointed out that it quickly declined to do.  Blagojevich wanted something for that seat.  However, he was caught by the FBI, was tried and convicted, and is now serving a prison sentence in Colorado.  This was a widely known story at the time.  One can’t try to sell a vacated Senate seat… whether it’s for personal gain or not.

Now, it is 2013.  President Obama is about to take his second oath of office after winning reelection last year in November.  As his former-governor is sitting in a jail cell, it would seem the President is taking some notes about the actions of the man that used to govern his state, though it’s not actively selling a position as much as it is those seeking a position for their gratitude.  According to a New York Times article, many of the Presidents biggest donors in his reelection campaign are now seeking appointments to ambassador to the many nations around the world, which does include the most sought after ambassador posting of Great Britain.  This set of people may not necessarily be the most qualified group of individuals for such postings, but they expect it for their loyalty and the work they put in to the campaign.  And this is a not a new custom either as it dates back to even Ronald Reagan, so both Democratic and Republican administrations are guilty of this kind of patronage.

“Mr. Obama has followed recent tradition in making appointments; like every president going back to Ronald Reagan, he has filled about 70 percent of the posts with career diplomats and 30 percent with political appointees, often but not always top donors.”  NY Times article

chester-a-arthur-patronageIt’s not uncommon to appoint an individual to a post that is loyal to the message of the administration, whether or not that particular person comes from the same political party or not.  We see such changes after each election.  The vast majority of those that take on these roles are qualified to serve them in that capacity.  According to the NY Times article, even China has become a much sought after diplomatic post and one of Obama’s biggest donors is wanting it.  During Obama’s first term, he appointed former-Utah Governor Jon Huntsman to that post.  It is doubtful that Huntsman contributed at all to Obama’s election in 2008.  So why the appointment to China?  Some see that it was an attempt to put a possible future rival somewhere else, but it could also be that Huntsman was the best person for the job.  He speaks several languages, which does include Mandarin; he has business experience which would come in quite useful with our commercial dealings; and he did have political experience being a former governor.

The article did point out that about 70-percent of the posts are filled with career diplomats, which is as it should be.  However, it’s the other 30-percent that concerns me the most.  Just because a precedent has now been set, does that mean that it needs to continue now through future administrations?  Is something we get to look forward to each time around… almost 1/3rd of our ambassadors just being major political donors instead of being qualified to represent our nation internationally?  In a sense, it almost seems as though these particular ambassador positions are being “sold” to the highest bidder… to whomever gave the most money to the campaign and wants that particular job.  There is a very blurred line here between what is illegal (the actions of Blagojevich) and what is legal (the actions of the President).

I expect that with vacancies during an administration, the President will fill such openings with people that will assist him in steering the nation in the direction that he has set.  When it comes to selecting ambassadors, I expect a President to fill such a position with those that are most qualified to represent our national interests abroad.  I do not think think any such openings should be filled with political donors whose sole “qualification” is that they donated large amounts of money to an election campaign.  The precedent that has been started needs to come to an end.  No position should be for sale to the highest bidder… or in this case, the highest campaign contributor.  Jobs within our government should only go to those that are qualified to fill such vacancies.  Our democracy is not for sale, though it’s now starting to seem like it is.  Otherwise, for those that intend on entering this particular career field might as well forego the college education and start stockpiling cash so that they can buy their way in.  No skills are required… just a few million dollars to the right campaign.


7 Responses to No Skills Required

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    • James S. says:

      I’m glad to have a gained a new reader. As for recent posts, I’d say either go with “NDAA: The Threat to Our Rights” and “The Silent Discussion.”

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