The election of Barack Obama was a transformational moment in American politics, a seismic shift in the political landscape, a rejection of the old, hard-edged ideologically driven campaigns.
And so perhaps you, like so many other Americans, are asking, "What’s in it for me?"
The answer comes back in these perilous financial times — a steady job in the Obama administration. It’s well-paid work, white-collar, indoors, no heavy lifting and good for four years and, with luck, maybe eight.
It entails moving to Washington, once a big financial hurdle. But now with the real-estate market in the tank, some of the suburbs are actually affordable.
Forget the possibility of a sudden glut of houses on the market as newly jobless Republicans move back to wherever it was they came from. There’s an old saying in the nation’s capital, "They never go back to Pocatello," and they never do.
But there will be jobs to be had. Obama has 3,000 presidential job appointments to make. About 700 of them are really good — 300 in the White House and 400 Cabinet and sub-Cabinet jobs.
The 300 White House posts are intensely competitive. Getting one is not for the squeamish, and preference goes to those who were there for the full, two-year-long march of the campaign. Political campaigns have been damaged — Hillary Clinton’s and Al Gore’s come to mind — by aides fighting over which top staff job they’ll get and which office with a window in the West Wing, rather than being stuck across the way in the Old Executive Office Building, neglecting the salient fact that they have to win an election first.
The 400 Cabinet and sub-Cabinet jobs are a little easier to come by. A helpful nudge from an influential Obama insider or donor is essential. As they say in Obama’s Chicago political milieu when one is seeking, say, a job in the sewer department, "Nobody wants somebody that nobody sent."
The biggest drawback to Cabinet jobs — and, face it, you’re not really qualified to head Treasury or Defense or State or Justice — is that they require Senate confirmation, and somebody up there will be gunning for you. It’s nothing personal; it’s politics.
Thus, the Obama transition team will deploy phalanxes of Washington lawyers and FBI agents who will want to know the source of every nickel you ever earned, everybody you ever lived next to, all your speeches and articles, every organization you ever joined — think the Communist Party or a segregated country club — and such indiscretions as a DUI or an illegal nanny or what the tabloids call a "love nest."
If you clear all that, you might be on board for a job in one of the less sexy Cabinet departments or a minor regulatory agency, a position with a heavily qualified title like "deputy assistant associate director." You get benefits, a parking space and maybe, when no one more important wants it, access to a car and driver.
But, you protest, what if I am totally unqualified for the job, what if I have no idea what I’m supposed to do? Don’t worry about it. The permanent civil servants know what they’re doing and they’re used to hapless political appointees. Be nice to them and they may actually make you look good.
Besides, your Republican predecessor is probably still on the job through what is called "burrowing." That’s when an astute jobholder, sensing a shift in the winds, forsakes political-appointee status to burrow into the civil service.
Republicans may deride Washington bureaucrats, but when their party is thrown out of office they desperately want to be one.