At this point in a presidential campaign, our sense is dominated by images of candidates shaking hands at a diner in New Hampshire, or working a crowd at the state fair in Iowa. Given the kind of retail politics that power these early days in the road to the White House, our view of the candidates can be highly personal.
To be sure, come next November we'll be pulling the lever for the one man or woman we want to lead our country for the next four years. The truth is, though, that whomever wins on Election Day actually will sit atop a massive federal government, and that winner will bring in an army of professionals to Washington, to help him, or her, in that task.
The hiring that a new president will undertake is not limited to a White House staff and a cabinet of advisers. Those appointments only lead to deputy secretaries, assistant secretaries, deputy assistant secretaries, commissioners, and so on and so forth, all across the federal government.
Other than perhaps our quadrennial "veepstakes," the chatter of whom the eventual Republican nominee will select as his or her running mate (and maybe some peripheral rhetoric about the kinds of Supreme Court justices he or she might choose), not much attention usually is paid to this cast of thousands until after the election. Yet, since in some real sense we are electing not only an individual, but an entire population in government, who these folks could be, and where they come from, ought to get more thought and discussion during the campaign.
Washington has established a sort of unofficial revolving-door system which has helped with solving the staffing issue. When a presidency of one political party ends, many of those appointees go across town to fill posts at the various think tanks, institutes, and other such various and sundry political and policy organizations which exist here, all the while waiting for their next turn at bat. Simultaneously, those of the incoming party who had been so hibernating during the previous administration, come back into government to fill so many of these politically appointed posts. So it is that the Obama administration is filled with so many familiar faces from the Clinton era, for instance, or that George W. Bush and his team reached back to so many alumni from his father's administration.