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Personnel is policy.

The name of every high-profile politician is really the name of a corporation. The politician himself is its CEO, and like the CEO of an auto manufacturer or McDonald's, a senator, governor, aspiring presidential nominee does not personally make the product he sells. Few politicians have much of a hand in writing the books that appear under their names. Their speeches are also written for them, as are the detailed legislative and policy proposals that emanate from their offices or campaigns. Being Jeb Bush or Hillary Clinton or Rand Paul or Marco Rubio is not a one-man--or one-woman--operation.

This is why "personnel is policy" is a fundamental axiom of American politics. What politicians say is a notoriously unreliable guide to what they will do in office. But the staff and advisors with whom they surround themselves strongly suggest where political leaders' real priorities lie. Often enough, those priorities are practical, either in electoral or managerial terms: presidential campaigns and administrations tend to be ideologically mixed, as a leader tries to unite ideological factions within his or her own party or seeks out staff who have valuable technical skills or experience, whatever their philosophies. Loyalty and party affiliation are often more important than sympathy with the leader's professed principles.

Thus George W. Bush campaigned in 2000 on a humble foreign policy but picked Dick Cheney as his vice president and, once in office, appointed Donald Rumsfeld as secretary of defense, as well as a bevy of interventionist ideologues to lower positions. He had Colin Powell as secretary of state, but foreign-policy realists were outnumbered from the start. The Bush administration's actual first-term foreign policy was what one would expect based on his personnel choices rather than his campaign rhetoric.

Complicating matters for those leaders with a clear philosophical vision is that expertise and experience are self-perpetuating. The people most qualified to serve as campaign advisors and administration officials are people who have served in those roles before. Cheney and Rumsfeld had been Ford administration officials; Cheney and Powell had served under George H.W. Bush. Ronald Reagan's conservative supporters were alarmed by the presence of "Eastern establishment" Republicans in his administration and blamed them when the administration adopted policies more moderate than the right desired. But it's always easier to hire experienced managers than it is to put people with the right ideas but the wrong resumes in positions of power.

Neoconservatives have understood this better than their realist or libertarian rivals on the right. In 2000, Sen. John McCain, rather than Bush, was the candidate most ideologically attuned to the neoconservatives--the one they were most enthusiastic to see nominated. But after Bush defeated him, Bill Kristol and company knew they could still win their policy battles if a second-choice candidate like Bush put enough of their first-choice personnel on his team.

The problem for traditionalist and libertarian opponents of the neoconservatives today is that very few people who share their philosophy have any experience at all in campaigns or government at high levels. The neoconservative movement, by contrast, has been in large part a professional development program and network of credentialing institutions.

Even more than neoconservatives are concerned to produce the next John McCain, they are keen to build up people like Jamie Fly--now a top counsel on national security to Marco Rubio and formerly director of the Foreign Policy Initiative, a think tank founded by Kristol and fellow neoconservatives Dan Senor and Robert Kagan. FPI is the successor to Kristol and Kagan's earlier Project for the New American Century. Coincidentally, of course, Rubio's campaign kickoff video was titled "A New American Century."
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Publication:The American Conservative
Date:Jul 1, 2015
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