The expert influence behind START
As recently as Saturday, the New START treaty set to be approved in the Senate looked as if it might not have enough votes. The Post's Mary Beth Sheridan wrote over the weekend that success for the pact was still far from sure. Republicans rallied around an amendment that would have endangered the treaty, if approved, and threatened that votes might be withheld if Democrats tried to push through other bills on immigration and gays in the military.
But then on Monday, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Mike Mullen, wrote a letter. In no uncertain terms, he laid out his support for the treaty, of which he said "I am as confident in its success as I am in its safeguards. The sooner it is ratified, the better." Soon enough, the prospect of the treaty's passage looked more assured, as the opposition found itself in the awkward position of being on the other side of the experts. And not just Mullen: All six living secretaries of state who served Republican presidents support the treaty.
It's the second time in recent weeks that the advice of military and civilian defense leaders has helped to sway votes on an issue. The support by Mullen and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates for repealing "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" was a key factor in helping the measure easily pass the Senate on Saturday. It appears that even amid all the petulance and partisan fray, expertise and experience still count for something.
Of course, it helps that military chiefs are the leaders in which this country has the most confidence. The armed forces' leadership is just one of four groups who got above-average marks in a survey done by the Center for Public Leadership at Harvard's Kennedy School. (The other three were the medical, nonprofit and charity sectors.) The same survey found that just 38 percent of Americans say they have confidence in their leaders.
Perhaps that's one reason the lines have blurred so much over who's an expert and who isn't, and how much their opinions should matter. Seeing how little confidence we have in those in charge--some 68 percent of respondents to the Harvard survey believe the country has a leadership crisis--makes it at least a little easier to understand how people would let it slide when their congressmen allow politics to override the advice of wise authorities.
But not this time. Mullen's letter, requested by Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), the chairman of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, proves that support from a respected name on a subject can still help cut through partisan acrimony and surmount petty differences. In an era of talking heads who have little to no expertise on the subject about which they're pontificating--if plenty of ambition for bigger riches or higher office--it's nice to see politics still make room for expertise and experience.
December 22, 2010; 9:26 AM ET |
Federal government leadership
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