An even more impressive pick than Shinseki (updated)

Steven Chu, as the new Secretary of Energy.

More to say about the whys and wherefores later. For the moment: the ability of an incoming administration to select such people, and -- even trickier -- convince them it will be worth their while to move to Washington and wrestle with the most complicated politico / technical / diplomatic problems, given all the hassles and built-in frustrations and lack of privacy in governmental life, is both surprising and encouraging. Very good news.

Update: to flesh out a point made while I was rushing out the door earlier: obviously a Cabinet position is "a [bleeping] valuable thing," as the still-governor of Illinois might put it, and many people scheme and scramble for the offer. Also, I am not in the camp of people who feel very sorry for those who accept the "burden" of public service in high appointed office. It's a great challenge, a great opportunity, and a great thrill.

My point was that there are real trade-offs in public life: making all of your finances public, for example, or realizing that while you're in office everything you do or say is on the record and potentially embarrassing. Precisely the kind of person who is not actively scheming for the job, who already has a very good position (as Chu does), and who may give some weight to these personal tradeoffs, is the kind of person an administration may not manage to attract. When that person brings unusual eminence ot the job, as Chu does, then it's worth noting this achievement.

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James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

Fallows welcomes and frequently quotes from reader mail sent via the "Email" button below. Unless you specify otherwise, we consider any incoming mail available for possible quotation -- but not with the sender's real name unless you explicitly state that it may be used. If you are wondering why Fallows does not use a "Comments" field below his posts, please see previous explanations here and here.

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