Susan Crawford is now back blogging again, looking forward to teaching next semester at Michigan Law and getting back into the blogging game. Because those of us in public policy land cannot imagine anyone ever wanting to do anything else, and because the folks on the right have wanted to claim a kill for their “anti-Czar Campaign,” a number of folks want to claim she was pushed to leave. I would ignore this on the right, but it has a distressing tendency to get picked up and believed on the left as well.
I’ve known Susan for over 10 years now, and consider her a friend, so I am hardly impartial. But I personally believe that Susan always meant to stay a year for the transition — no more no less — just as she told her Dean and everyone else at the beginning of this process. Because Susan is an example of a breed long thought vanished from America — one moved by the spirit of Cincinatus.
In ancient Rome, it was the custom in times of crisis for the Senate to appoint a supreme leader, a dictator (this being the origin of the term), who would wield absolute power for the duration of the crisis, then step down afterward. According to legend, in a time of crisis, the Senate elected the retired Consul Cincinatus to act as dictator, and dispatched messengers with the news. The messengers found Cincinatus plowing on his farm. When he heard that Rome needed him, he left his plow and returned with the messengers to take up his duties in Rome. When the crisis passed, he gave up his position and returned to his plow — picking up precisely where he left off.
Public policy is not a quiet way to make a living. It involves long hours on things ranging from the mind-numbingly complex to the even more mind-numbingly complex. People do not play well with one another. There is little understanding of the work, little credit for doing a good job, and plenty of people who will tell you to your face (and even more who will say behind your back) how they could do a better job. Some folks do it for money, and there are no lack of examples of folk who have done well for themselves after a stint in policyland. Some do it for ideology, or for the fun of it (I confess to falling into the later category myself; much as I often find the work wearing and difficult, I find it enormously engaging and intellectually challenging).
But a handful do it because they are asked, and because they understand that they can do something that will benefit people and their country by devoting some portion of their lives to a process they do not find enjoyable or potentially profitable. They serve as genuine public servants, acting where they believe they can do good, returning to what they really want to do with their lives when their service is complete.
Susan Crawford has enjoyed a very successful career as a law school professor and as the founder of One Web Day. She agreed to join the ICANN Board when asked not because she got anything out of it (other than a great deal of work and little thanks), but because she believed she could make a difference for the better. She did not seek it out, but did not decline when asked, because she knew that her talents were needed. Similarly, when the Obama people came calling, she agreed to help with the transition and to get the ball rolling. This she did splendidly and selflessly. Work done, in the best spirit of Cincinatus, she returned to her normal life.
As I say, those of us who live in Policyland — including the wags, talking heads, bloggers and hosts of others who follow the doings in Policyland with the same fervor as football fans prepping for the Bowl Season — may have a difficult time grasping this. In our modern age, the false wisdom of cynicism has far more appeal than the belief that someone would come for a year, do what she felt was her duty, then simply leave. But knowing Susan, I believe it. So I am grateful she set aside her life for a year, grateful for what she did, and glad to see her back where she wants to be. My one regret is that the spirit of Cincinatus, which was once the ideal to which citizens of this country aspired, has passed so into obscurity that we cannot recognize it when we see it.
Stay tuned . . . .