Posted by: mutantpoodle | October 1, 2008

On Competence and Hiring

Incompetence (

Incompetence (

In 34 days, this country will hire a new President and Vice-President. So let’s talk about hiring.

I’ve hired a few people over the years, and figuring out the right person for the job is both art and science. Because I was usually hiring for a group that required specific skills applied to a narrow area of entertainment, sometimes it was hard to figure out if someone’s experience – which was rarely spot-on – would translate well to their responsibilities in my group.

So I created a test.

It wasn’t a hard test – indeed, quite a few people aced it. But it did require certain basic skills, that someone pay attention, that they be willing to ask questions (which I encouraged) if they were confused, and that they check their work carefully. And it wasn’t a stress test. It was just a quantitative measure of their abilities.

One guy came in – flew in from Texas, in fact, talked with several of us, and took the test.

If it is possible to do a face-plant in that situation, he did.

We let him try again – maybe, we thought, we were unclear in our instructions.

Same result.

Now, perhaps you think I’m going to say that Sarah Palin is like that guy from Texas. And yes, you could argue that in a number of objective and subjective tests, she has failed any sort of Commander-in-Chief threshold.

  • She evinces no knowledge of or curiosity about events outside of her native state (or, perhaps, sports).
  • She has, thus far, been unwilling to subject herself to a single press conference.
  • Her performances in interviews with Charlie Gibson and Katie Couric – neither of whom asked anything remotely surprising or difficult for someone who aspires to the office for which she is running, or the one for which she’d be next in line were she and John McCain to win in November – have been so awful that many of the right’s thirstiest kool-aid drinkers have expressed alarm at her performance, with some suggesting she should drop out.

But no, I wasn’t going to make that point. My point – to bring all this back to my guy from Texas, is she would never have gotten in the door.

I would never have given someone with experience comparable to Sarah Palin’s a chance to take that test.

Now, poseurs running for President in the major parties get weeded out by the primary process. (Think Mike Gravel.) You may believe Barack Obama is inexperienced, but he put himself in front of voters in this country for well over a year, and got himself the nomination of his party. John McCain, overcoming his party’s latent distrust of him, did the same.

Each of them hired their VP. Barack Obama hired Joe Biden. Perhaps not my first choice, but solid.

John McCain chose Sarah Palin.

It’s one thing if you choose to interview someone you’re pretty sure isn’t qualified to do the job ahead of them. Sometimes you do it as a favor; sometimes you do because, politically, you have to. (For what it’s worth, those interviews feel like they last forever.)

It’s quite another to actually hire them.

Which brings us to John McCain.

I don’t know if Sarah Palin realized how overmatched she was by the mere job of campaigning for Vice-President – much less performing that job if elected. Frankly, she doesn’t seem too self-aware to me. Maybe it’s just dawning on her now.

But John McCain knew. Because if we’ve learned anything in the past two weeks, it’s that 2 hours – or however long John McCain spent with Sarah Palin before he dropped this bomb on all of us – is plenty of time to figure out she doesn’t have a clue. If he didn’t, he’s far less of a man than I thought – and I didn’t think much of him before this all happened.

When people who worked for me screwed up, the calls from senior management came to me. If I was unable to fix whatever problems there were, they would start to doubt my judgment.

Had I hired someone so pathetically unqualified for a job as Sarah Palin is to hers, I’d have been in serious trouble. Quite possibly fired, and deservedly so.

People may question Sarah Palin’s competence – hell, I do – but the greater failure lies with Senator John McCain. People talk about dropping Palin – but really, it’s McCain who has demonstrated the worst type of incompetence. He hired someone while being fully aware that they were not up to the job. I would never have taken that risk. Besides reflecting poorly on me, friends of mine who depended on my department’s work would have been horribly inconvenienced by my poor judgment.

And my department wasn’t a nuclear power that’s $10 trillion in debt.


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