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December 05, 2013 4:12 AM David Gergen Calls for More David Gergens

By Brendan Nyhan

David Gergen is the prototypical Washington wise man, an experienced operative who has served under four presidents and was famously brought into the Clinton White House to provide more experienced leadership. When he’s not working in the White House, though, he often makes the rounds as a pundit - and you’ll never guess how he thinks President Obama should solve his problems!

As Mark Halperin noted on Twitter, Gergen called this week for the administration to hire a “heavyweight” to get his agenda moving in Congress:

David Gergen, who has worked for both Republican and Democratic presidents, said the president needs to bring in a Washington “heavyweight” who is schooled in moving an agenda through the capital.

It’s advice he’s repeated again and again over the years. In Gergen-land, there’s no political problem that can’t be solved by getting more “heavyweights” involved - check out this (no doubt partial) list from a quick Nexis search:

“What good president have done — most effective presidents have done have then supplemented those — that inner circle with heavyweights whom they can look to.” (Diane Rehm Show 11/4/13)
“If we had had a commission like this [the Iraq Study Group], of heavyweights, who had spoken up so publicly and forcefully, when Lyndon Johnson was president … the Vietnam War would have ended much earlier.” (Associated Press, 12/8/06)
“I still think [President Obama] needs heavyweights from the business community.” (CNN, 10/22/10)
“The current shuffle is coming extremely late for a recovery — too late, probably — and so far, the administration has not brought in any outside heavyweights.” (New York Times, 4/23/06)

There’s a weird sort of Green Lantern-ism to Gergen’s belief that “heavyweights” can overcome the structural obstacles presidents face to achieving their objectives. Staff are easy to blame, of course, when things go poorly for an administration, but there’s little evidence to support the notion that they can, say, magically push Obama’s agenda through Congress.

(The problem of David Gergen advising presidents to hire him or people like him is closely related to the expert service problemthat creates perverse incentives in fields like auto repair, dentistry, and medicine.)

[Cross-posted at Brendan Nyhan’s blog]

Brendan Nyhan is an assistant professor of government at Dartmouth College.

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