Michael Gerson is a political conservative who served in George W. Bush’s administration. He has also been a consistent “never Trumper.” He recently made the conservative case for Joe Biden, in a Washington Post column.
Gerson began by reciting some of the reasons conservatives should reject not just Donald J. Trump but the Republicans running with him, in order to crush the current iteration of the GOP.
Because of the terrible damage Trump has done to the Republican Party, it is not enough for him to lose. He must lose in a fashion that constitutes repudiation. For the voter, this means that staying home on Election Day, or writing in Mitt Romney’s name, is not enough. She or he needs to vote in a manner that encourages a decisive Biden win. This theory also requires voting against all the elected Republicans who have enabled Trump (which is nearly all elected Republicans). A comprehensive Republican loss is the only way to hasten party reform. Those who love the GOP must (temporarily) leave it and ensure it is thoroughly defeated in its current form.
Gerson then moved to the positive reasons to support Joe Biden, and in doing so made a point that is far too often ignored. As he reminds readers, the restoration of our governing institutions requires the knowledge and skills of an insider. “We have lived through the presidency of a defiant outsider who dismisses qualities such as professionalism and expertise as elitism.”
As readers of this blog know, I teach in a school of public affairs. We teach students who are planning to go into government the specialized “knowledge and skills” that they will need in such positions. Those skills differ from the skills imparted in the business school; they include everything from public budgeting to the important differences between the private, public and nonprofit sectors, to political philosophy, to constitutional ethics.
I am so over the facile assertion that success in business (and yes, I know Trump wasn’t successful) will easily translate into the ability to run a government agency or administration. The job of a businessperson is to make a profit; the job of government is to serve the public good. People who do not understand that distinction–and the very different approaches that distinction requires– don’t belong in public positions.
Gerson makes another important point: the complexity of today’s government requires administrators who actually understand how it all works.
There is a reason why the uninspiring Gerald Ford was an inspired choice to follow Richard Nixon. Ford had been a respected legislator for a quarter of a century. As president, he knew the personnel choices and institutional rituals that would begin to restore credibility to politicized agencies. Biden has the background and capacity to do the same.
Gerson characterizes this election as a choice between an arsonist and an institutionalist, and points to the assets of the institutionalist. I agree, but I also understand that some fires are set accidentally. Trump is, of course, an intentional arsonist, but his monumental ignorance has also done incredible–often inadvertent– harm to our governing institutions.
During his embarrassing Town Hall on NBC, Trump defended his re-tweet of a conspiracy theory, prompting Savannah Guthrie to remind him that he is President, not “someone’s crazy uncle.” But really, electing a President with absolutely no understanding of government, the constitution, checks and balances or the way public administration actually works has turned out to be pretty much the same thing as putting someone’s crazy uncle in charge.
Not just Presidents, but all government officials need specialized knowledge and skills to do their jobs. There’s a big difference between expertise and “elitism,” and if the pandemic has taught us anything, it is that we shouldn’t listen to the crazy uncles who resent people who know what they are talking about.
If the last four years have taught us anything, it’s that Ignorance and self-aggrandizement aren’t qualifications for political office.