Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Senators - Stay where you are!

I enjoy reading books by people like Daniel Kahneman and Daniel Gilbert who like to make the point that, in short a) people don't really understand how their own brains work (Kahneman) and b) people do a very poor job of predicting what will make themselves happy (Gilbert). Gilbert goes on to demonstrate that while we can make excellent guesses at what makes "people" in the abstract happy, we do a terrible job in our own personal lives. We just can't seem to predict our own future levels of happiness.

I read a lot of these types of books both to better understand my own mind and overcome my own inherent biases (Kahneman-stuff), but also in an effort to construct and promote public policies that increase overall "happiness," rather than more traditional measures of social success like GDP or HHI (Gilbert-stuff). I also, I admit, use these types of books as a more socially-acceptable form of self-help, as pointed out to me (not to my entire surprise), in an excellent series of articles in the current January "Self-Help" edition of New York magazine.

This is a rather lengthy introduction to the fact that I read today that Secretary of the Interior, Ken Salazar, is stepping down from his post. Salazar's resignation comes on the heels of other high-profile Cabinet resignations such as Hillary Clinton (State), Leon Panetta (Defense), Hilda Solis (Labor), Lisa Jackson (EPA) and wanker-extraordinaire Tim Geithner (sorry, couldn't resist. This is my blog after all). We may see Ray LaHood go too, who is actually very good (for a Republican, har-har).

Now, I don't really mind seeing Salazar go. He was a so-so Secretary of the Interior and I wouldn't mind seeing someone at the Interior who wasn't so tight with the oil and mining interests. We did elect a Democratic president after-all. Again. But what's apparent to me, and not at-all apparent to the candidates who aspire to these positions, is that these jobs suck. Name a Cabinet position. It sucks. Generally speaking, 50-75% of a President's Cabinet usually turns over between the first and second terms. Chew on that! These people are just chomping on the bit to get the hell out of there. And yet, we see U.S. Senator and state Governors lining up to fill these positions. These are people who, under normal conditions, either need to be term-limited (Governors) or dragged out of office kicking and screaming (Senators). It's your John Kerry's and Janet Napolitano's. And even worse, when the President nominates these people, a power vacuum is created in their open posts that are often filled by the opposition party. And for what? Two years from now, John Kerry is going to hate his job. Okay, maybe John Kerry won't...But Chuck Hagel will. I'm sure former governor Kathleen Sebelius (Health) already does. The reality is, Senators and Governors have a lot more personal-decision-making authority in their previous positions. In the Executive Branch, they are really just elaborate enforcers. And from time-to-time, (perhaps most of the time), they will be tasked to enforce legislation or executive provisos they don't even agree with. That is not a formula for personal workplace satisfaction. In fact, it is quite the opposite.

If I may give a recommendation to my friends in the U.S. Senate or state Governor's office - turn down these positions! [Editor's note - I am assuming the vast majority of my readership is US Senate-level or higher] Honestly, turn them down. You clearly enjoy your Senate seat. You clearly enjoy the Governor's mansion. Why are you trading that in for a job you will despise in a few years? Do you think you're the exception? You're not. And the abandonment of your position is usually a net-loss of the incumbent party. Take Democrats. Would this country be better off with John Kerry in the Senate over Scott Brown? Yes. Would this country be better off with Janet Napolitano in Arizona over Jan Brewer? HELL YES.

Listen, I know you're not going to listen to me. Everyone thinks they know what's best for themselves. Everyone thinks they can predict their own anticipated levels of happiness. But the fact is, we're pretty terrible at it. Look at the turnover in this Cabinet. Look at the turnover in the Cabinet historically. There is a pretty good case to be made that you'd be better off staying where you are. You clearly enjoy the position, otherwise you wouldn't waste four hours a day fundraising just to keep it.

So please, let the career bureaucrats take those illustrious, high-paying, unaccountable positions. You know. Faceless bureaucrats like myself. Thank you and good day.

1 comment:

  1. I agree with your advice, though I wouldn't say no to an appointment. I'm pretty sure I've even paid all my taxes properly.