Surrounding yourself with the not-so-bright does not make you look smarter.

November 27, 2006 | By | 4 Replies More

When we were teenagers, my sister and I used to discuss how the people around you affect how you look. She was very short, and a little ‘plump’ and seemed to have girlfriends that were tall and skinny.  I pointed out (just being argumentative, I was the older sister by a couple of years), that instead of wearing 6 inch platforms, she should get shorter and fatter friends, so she’d look taller and thinner. 

Looks like Dubyah (I love Molly Ivins) never grew out of that belief.  

It is a very common adage that we better ourselves by surrounding ourselves with smart people.  Take for example a recent graduation address at Whitman College, a very small college near Spokane.  The address by Dr. Balof, included a quote variously attributed to many.  The quote is:

If you’re dumb, surround yourself with smart people.  If you’re smart, surround yourself with smart people who disagree with you.

Dubyah hasn’t done that.  He didn’t hire the best and brightest he could find to help him govern.  Instead he surrounded himself with buddies, regardless of their ability or experience.

I can’t write it any better than the report done by Frontline, so I won’t even try.  Here’s what that report said: 

What happened was that the hiring was done by the White House liaison to the Pentagon, an office of the Pentagon political appointee. This office served as the gatekeeper. Instead of casting out widely for people with knowledge of Arabic, knowledge of the Middle East, knowledge of post-conflict reconstruction, they went after the political loyalists and canvassed the offices of Republic congressmen, conservative think tanks and other places where they knew they would find people who would be unfailingly loyal to the president and to the president’s mission in Iraq. …

The hiring process involved questions that would have landed a private-sector employer in jail. They asked people what their views on Roe v. Wade were, whether they believed in capital punishment. A man of Middle Eastern descent was asked whether he was Muslim or Christian. People were asked who they voted for for president. …

So you wind up getting people like John Agresto to go run Iraq’s higher education system instead of getting somebody who had, let’s say, run a very large public university system. He was a former president of a small college in Santa Fe, N.M., with 500 students. But he had connections. He served on the National Endowment for the Humanities with Lynne Cheney; Joyce Rumsfeld sat on his board of directors at St. John’s College.

For [Iraq’s] primary and secondary education, [they] brought in a guy from the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, a very conservative think tank, who had written extensively on the need for school vouchers. This is not a guy who has any experience in rebuilding school systems in the Middle East.

We’ve talked about Jim Haveman, the guy from Michigan who had very little experience in public health, being brought over to rebuild Iraq’s health care system. And the list goes on — a bunch of political appointees with very little practical experience.

Grumpypilgrim just asked when Dubyah was planning to create stability. That wasn’t going to be an easy job, and surrounding himself with yes men and old cronies made it impossible.

There is no fix now.  We can’t undo the damage we’ve done.  We can’t bring thousands upon thousands of Iraqis back to life.  We can only hope to stem the tide of problems we instigated, and if Dubyah doesn’t change his method of choosing advisors, it isn’t going to happen in the next two years.

I’m not holding my breath.

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Category: Current Events, Iraq, Politics, War

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My life's goal is to make a difference; to help those stuck in the mire of poverty and ignorance. I am an advocate for those who cannot speak for themselves, whether from ignorance, from lack of eloquence or simple lack of opportunity.

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  1. hogiemo says:

    I also love Molly ivins, and she also says you can't fix stupid! We can't fix Iraq.

  2. grumpypilgrim says:

    Surrounding yourself with the not-so-bright might not make you look smarter, but it does create a big cloud of incompetence around you in which you can hide your own glaring defects. See my post on this subject, here: http://dangerousintersection.org/?p=655/.

    Unfortunately, the reality of our world is that many people are not virtuous, so they tend to follow the following hiring paradigm: "A" people hire "A" people; "B" people hire "C" people.

  3. Martian says:

    There is an old story about a CEO who called a meeting of all his vice-presidents. On the table in front of each of them was a wooden doll. He instructed them to remove the doll's head; they found that the doll was hollow. Inside it was another smaller wooden doll.

    He told them, "The doll is you. You all are why this company is failing lately: Because you all hire people smaller and dumber than you are, when you SHOULD be hiring people who are better and smarter than you are."

    I've always remembered that.

  4. Mark says:

    Interesting article. I just wanted to add a correction, the quote 'It's taken me a lot of years, but I've come around to this. If you’re dumb, surround yourself with smart people. If you're smart, surround yourself with smart people who disagree with you.' is taken from Aaron Sorkin’s television show "Sports Night". It was said in a moving speach by Robert Guillaume (as Isaac Jaffe on Sports Night). In the Balof's speach he even referenced it correctly. http://www.whitman.edu/content/news/BarryBalof

    I love this quote (and this show). I have to say that in the show right after this quote, he adds “I’m a very smart man.” In the episode he’s making a case to one of his employees about how he has a moral responsibility to tell him when they disagree with him… regardless if it’s right or not.

    Just a heads up! 🙂

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