It will be a shame if someone as distinguished, credentialed and obviously qualified as ExxonMobil chief executive Rex Tillerson is deemed to be unqualified for government service. Receiving an appointment to serve in government shouldn’t just be reserved for career politicians, lawyers and assorted bankers and academics. Tillerson’s confirmation as secretary of state would do a lot to expand the current narrow pathway that exists from the American corporate sector into our executive branch of government.
It has already been widely reported that Tillerson’s experience working for a global company has equipped him with diplomatic skills and useful relationships with foreign leaders that have informed his worldview. But it’s also worth noting that as CEO of ExxonMobil, Tillerson has had to learn a lot about more than just oil and its extraction and handling. He has had to know a great deal about energy policy, regulatory policy, global finance, currency issues and labor policy, not to mention environmental policy. (Disclosure: My firm represents interests in the fossil fuel and nuclear power industries.) As something of a public figure, he has regularly had to speak from behind a podium, answer questions from smart moderators and deal with the media. Plus, he already has experience testifying before Congress. In short, I can’t think of another person outside government who has had more diverse interactions that are relevant to being secretary of state.
The left’s opposition to Tillerson will largely be grounded in the fact that he comes from an oil company. Let’s face it: The people who don’t want the Keystone XL pipeline or the Dakota Access pipeline, who oppose drilling or fracking anywhere and who think that de-carbonizing the economy is possible are the same people who will lead the fight against Tillerson’s confirmation. There is almost nothing Tillerson can say that will satisfy these people. Many among the global warming alarmist crowd approach the topic of climate change with a near-religious zeal. They have no patience for the infidels who have not embraced the absolutism of their substitute religion. I’m sure they hope there is some revelation in Tillerson’s financial disclosure or personal background that will give them something to scream about. They certainly hope he will step on a banana peel during the confirmation hearings and slip into a trap over questions surrounding man-made global warming and the “settled science” of climate change. But these issues are not new, and pretty much any oil-company executive is prepared to give honest and complete answers to questions about carbon emissions and global warming. Tillerson in particular has probably repeated answers to those kind of questions often enough that he can answer them in his sleep. And, according to people who know Tillerson, he has the patience of Job and is unflappable. I doubt the Democrats will make him break a sweat during the confirmation hearings.
The United States’ big companies — such as Exxon — attract great talent. A career in American corporate leadership gives people great insight, useful experience, management skills and expertise that law firms and college faculties cannot match. It will be a sad day if Senate Democrats are successful in laying out the “Not Welcome” mat for this remarkable talent pool by blocking Tillerson’s nomination to be our next secretary of state.