- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 6, 2006

Reportedly, following the replacement of Andy Card as White House chief of staff by Joshua Bolten, more changes of administration personnel are expected. Also there are the sudden openings at the White House, namely the vacancy Mr. Bolten leaves at the Office of Management and Budget and the need to replace Claude Allen as domestic policy adviser. The problem the president and his staff have is finding replacements with, in the word used by the media, “stature.”

Well, I shall admit finding men and women of stature to take positions in American public life is a problem. I suppose Britney Spears has stature, but having as White House domestic policy adviser a woman with an exposed belly button would be inappropriate, even ridiculous.

In the past a president’s chief domestic policy adviser arrived at the position with stature, as Mr. Allen did not. The most famous was, probably, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, who held that position in the Nixon administration early in what was to be Moynihan’s long career in public life. Yet, though relatively young when he came to the Nixon administration, he was not without stature. He had already served with distinction in the Johnson administration. Before that, as an academic and writer he was already famous for his learned observations about poverty, the black family, welfare reform and other domestic conditions. When Moynihan moved on to the United Nations and then to the Senate, other intellectuals of unquestioned stature were suggested for the office, most notably, Irving Kristol, then known as the “godfather” of neoconservatism.

There were in the 1960s and 1970s many relatively young people arriving in government abounding with stature, for instance, Henry Kissinger, George Shultz and Jeane Kirkpatrick. Outside public service, in the realm of public thought, there were plenty of intellectuals of stature. Recall if you will William F. Buckley, Jr., John Kenneth Galbraith or Gore Vidal — my old pal. Who are their equivalents today? Well, yes, there is Britney and, I guess, Paris Hilton.

I can think of no time in the country’s history when public life was so full of people without stature. The statureless condition exists for Democrats too. Who were the public figures of stature that came in with the Clinton administration?

True, eventually there was a young woman about the age of Misses Spears and Hilton, but she actually gained her stature in the administration. When she arrived she was no Pat Moynihan or Henry Kissinger.

Usually when I raise a problem in this column I arrive with the answer in hand. On this matter of stature, however, I am pretty much at a loss. Certainly the intellectual credentials of the people whom either a Republican or a Democratic president might appoint to a government post are as impressive as ever. Yet for some reason even highly-credentialed candidates for public service have no stature.

The other day, I put this question to Henry Manne, an accomplished, now retired, economist who has been a major figure in economic study for several decades. He too was at a loss. Yet he did venture this thought. The economists who gained stature in the past, for instance Milton Friedman and George Stigler, did so by solving big problems. There do not seem to be many such big problems to solve nowadays. This might also explain the lack of stature among Moynihan’s successors in the social sciences. The serious problems social scientists tangled with from the 1930s through the 1970s are now sufficiently ameliorated; for instance what was once called “urban decay,” for instance racism and extreme poverty.

That leaves us with the question of why yesteryear’s public thinkers of stature have not been replaced. I am sure that amongst the liberal brethren there are many who are perfectly content that Michael Moore and Al Franken are liberal intellectuals comparable to Messrs. Galbraith and Vidal, and possibly in some ways they are.

Yet who from the right is the equivalent in terms of stature of Mr. Buckley? Is it one of our radio talk hosts? Not even Rush Limbaugh would make such a claim. I would welcome your thoughts. Why do public servants and public thinkers not attract the esteem they had in earlier eras?

R. Emmett Tyrrell Jr. is the founder and editor in chief of The American Spectator, a contributing editor to the New York Sun, and an adjunct scholar at the Hudson Institute. His latest book is “Madame Hillary: The Dark Road to the White House.”

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