The name “Sleepy Joe” was meant to be pejorative rather than prophetic. But today President-elect Joe Biden’s team leaked the names of three likely appointees, and they are the equivalent of a warm cup of Ovaltine with a melatonin chaser. According to reports, Antony Blinken, Barack Obama’s deputy secretary of state, will be nominated for secretary of state. Michèle Flournoy, an under secretary of defense under Obama, is widely expected to be nominated for secretary of defense. And Jake Sullivan, Vice President Biden’s national security adviser, will be appointed national security adviser. They will barely need to order new business cards: A felt-tip marker to take out a word or two will suffice. If you wonder how these people will govern, just close your eyes and imagine yourself back to 2016, before you developed that nervous tic that causes you to rip out your hair by its roots whenever your phone buzzes with a news alert.
Do you remember that time? First the good news: Blinken, Flournoy, and Sullivan are not widely remembered by ordinary, non-Beltway people, because they were hypercompetent public servants who tended not to make hilarious, unforced errors. They did not, like the current secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, joke about canceling the result of a U.S. election, or swear at a journalist while quizzing her about world geography. They knew their job and took it seriously—unlike, say, Rick Perry, who discovered only after his nomination as secretary of energy that his main task was to oversee a nuclear arsenal capable of rendering the planet uninhabitable. At any point in the past eight years or so, you could have shaken Blinken, Flournoy, and Sullivan awake in the middle of the night and appointed them to these positions, and they would have been at their desk and ready to do their job by sunrise.