Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Why is the White House Staff So Young (and so inexperienced)?

I have just finished reading Doris Kearns Goodwin's "No Ordinary Times" published in 1994 and largely focused on personal relationships of FDR and Eleanor Roosevelt. The modern Presidency essentially started with FDR so it always will be of interest and not the least because of his 4-time election to the Presidency. Even though Ms. Goodwin does a great job she pulls her punches on several issues. But the book gives insight into the complicated personalities of both FDR and Eleanor.

Over a life time of observing Washington and its operations, and note I used to go to Congress to listen to debates from time to time from 8th grade on, I still am puzzled about some things that happen in Washington. For example it was only near the end of my civil service career that I found out that not just Ambassadorships were often bought by political contributions but even career SES jobs after the creation of that rank by President James Earl Carter in Reorganization Plan No. 1 of 1978 or was it No. 2 of 1978. You might remember that Reorganization Plan No. 3. of 1978 created FEMA. Still although Carter effectively ended the civil service for those above GS-15 (and maybe below because in many departments and agencies GS-15 and below positions are signed off by the agency or department head)largely because of the threat of geographic reassignment, that result probably was not foreseen. Even after 20 months in officer the vast majority of SES personnel nominally career in the US government are in fact those who obtained their positions during a Republican Adminstration. It alwasy interests me how little studied the Career SES ranks are by the Public Administration types who continue to argue that there is in fact a civil service. I argue against that conclusion but as always willing to hear the arguments. And note yes some bitter grapes because I was never an SES career or non-career.

Okay with that preface, see the label and question for today's post! It has always fascinated me that so many in the White House have so little broad guage experience. What interests me about both FDR and Truman is the broadguage people they hired or used or whatever. Some of these like Louis Howe, Harry Hopkins, and Henry Stimson and George Marshall were clearly broad guaged people with particular expertise that FDR recognized.

Ms. Goodwin also recognizes and discusses the amazing impact Eleanor had on FDR and the NEW DEAL even though clearly lost many times. Her energy and activities helped a physically crippled President have eyes and ears that otherwise might have caused him to be even more "cocooned" than many in that office.

That stated the primary reason so many "Youngins" are White House staffers is their loyalty to the President and their energy. These are clearly necessary and in particular for any kind of modern Presidency which is always activist in creating or destroying federal programs, functions, or activities, and interfacing with Congress and the public. The fact that President's largely rely on pre-Presidency friendships and relationships is largely a factor of trust and lack of time to form really new friends or relationships once in the Presidency. Not to say some don't try. But this also explains the intense frenzy of people to align with a Presidential candidate who might have the chance of winning the office. Clearly a White House position can be a step up the ladder for many and result in a huge increase in employability whether one succeeds or not in his/her White House job. It is of some interest that a number of key players, including FDR himself, had no post-employment issues because they died while in service to FDR or shortly after leaving FDR's White House often with physical, psychological, medical ailments that were the cause of their death.

That stated what I find of real interest although it might appear non-substantive at first is SEX, or the frisson of sex, that seems to permeate the White House. It clearly did involve FDR, who although crippled the entirety of his White House years, was completely energized by the youth beauty and energy of several members of the opposite sex including Eleanor although they apparently ended intimate relations after the birth of their sixth child, the discovery of FDR's affair with Lucy Mercy (later married a Rutherford), and his paralysis from polion. None the less I would argue that they (FDR and Eleanor) did love each other but neither were faithful to some extent.

FDR's relationships with Princess Martha of Norway, Missy LeHand, Lucy Mercy and others clearly indicate that he was energized by female intellect, beauty and energy and this continued throughout his life. I can understand this because even I have often been awestruck when faced with real intelligence, beauty and energy in the opposite sex throughout my life. Perhaps I can blame it on being delivered by the most famous obstetrician in the history of Minneapolis, MN, Dr. Nora Winthrop, M.D. who delivered me on August 4, 1942. Hey so the first person I ever saw was a very comptent female doc while all the males had been drafted and gone away.

While FDR focused his interests on and in the opposite sex, clearly Eleanor had a wide variety of relationships with both men and women. Her relatiohships with NY State Trooper Miller and Joe Lash were just two of many. Her little cottage built by FDR for her at Hyde Park was exclusively a women's enclave.

What we will never know is whether any of these multiplicity of relationships of FDR and Eleanor were fully consummated but what is clear is that the frisson of sex permeated the relationships of both FDR and Eleanor. He was physically handicapped although apparently not impotent after POLIO. She was emotionally handicapped and thus needed variety to fulfill her emotional needs. Physical needs may in fact have been more limited in needing satisfaction. Some wit once said that male and female relationships underpin most of the strivings of humans, whether realized sexually or sublimated in some way. But that fact leads to today's post.

Who is eligible mate in the White House is often of interest to the MSM? And who is involved with who is often the subject of some restraint but certainly not weddings or engagements of WH staff. The interest in Peter Orzag recently departed head of OMB is a good example. The activities of adult children of any President is always treated with great interest and constant invasions of privacy by the MSM.

So I conclude that while FDR and Eleanor brought us the modern Presidency, and while other President's clearly had sexual interests, FDR and Eleanor used and were sustained by sex or its frisson in their manipulation and use of their political power but as always with two highly focused people largely to attain political ends. FDR just to keep functioning in the face of enormus burdens and Eleanor to help achieve accomplishment of her political objectives. In other words both used sex to their own ends. Perhaps it is always such but Ms. Goodwin's book clearly should have discussed how the power welded by FDR and Eleanor was used by them in designing their social and political arrangements.

And also of course, both FDR and Eleanor set an example not of sexual predation but of the fact that the stimulus of sex and its frisson was in at least one WH used to accomplish political goals. As Henry Kissinger is reputed to have stated: "Power is the Ultimate Aprhodisiac".

Personnally I do think many of the world's most beautiful, energetic and intelligent women dominate Washington's Culture and foreign powers beware if they ever capture the Presidency. These would be formidable allies or opponents as their rise in Congress and the Executive Branch can many times attest. If you are a heterosexual male and cannot find a "soulmate" in Washington then perhaps you really don't want an equal or a partner, so go back to the hinterlands.

Back to more substance or at least a different kind of substance in the next postings.