Mother Jones and other groups are having a lot of fun with the fact that acting NNSA Associate Administrator for Defense Nuclear Security Steven Asher (above) spent a few years after retiring from the Air Force managing a Target retail store in Spokane, Washington. (Asher’s last command, I believe, was Malmstrom Air Force Base’s 341st Security Forces Group.)
We all want NNSA to do a better job of stewarding the nation’s nuclear stockpile. But this isn’t right. I’ve learned the hard way that we are blogging and tweeting about real people. I don’t know Steven Asher or anything about him other than what I’ve read. Nor, as far as I can tell, do any of the people having fun online at his expense.
Let me make three observations about how cruel and unfair this might be.
First, some people are being really elitist. Most of them get paid to work in nice academic or nonprofit environments. I sometimes complain about the pay when my lawyer friends don’t pick up the tab, but I still am really, really lucky compared to everyone I grew up with. And I emphasize luck. There are a lot of people, especially in this economy, who find themselves unemployed in their middle age, having to work menial jobs. Maybe it’s because I grew up without much money, or maybe it’s because I am politically as red as anyone I know, but we ought to value work and have respect for people regardless of how we perceive their social station in life. The moron who screws up your coffee at Starbucks is a human being who probably doesn’t enjoy making lattes for entitled yuppies all day long. So is the person who manages your local Target store.
Second, other folks are laughing at this guy for putting on a red shirt and giving interviews about specials on paper towels. I can’t imagine it was easy for a retired Air Force Colonel to swallow his pride and manage a Target. For all we know, he has a mortgage or kids in college. For all we know, he got up every day, put on that stupid red shirt, and sucked it up to make ends meet while figuring out how to get a job that made better use of his skills. Like the one he’s got now. If I lost my job, I wonder if I could do the same for my kids.
Third, we really don’t know why Asher found himself managing a Target. The jokes imply he’s incompetent, but there is no evidence of that. This is a terrible economy. Moreover, a lot of veterans struggle to find civilian jobs because employers don’t understand how to read a military resume. Some of the big employers — i.e., horrible box stores — have programs to match military careers to their civilian equivalents. It would be nice if more of the businesses I patronize made the same effort.
It would be perfectly reasonable to comment on Asher’s job performance, whether in blue or in red. Maybe he was a below-average colonel. (Half of them are, you know.) If he’s not qualified for this job, then someone ought to explain why. So far, the best anyone can do is pointing out that his unit failed an inspection a few months after he left. That seems like a stretch to me.
This isn’t really about Asher, of course, even though he has to endure the ridicule. Ask yourself how many blog posts you’ve seen griping about NNSA hires at the Associate Administrator level. The only reason this is a story is Asher’s resume offers a cheap way to make NNSA look foolish and incompetent. Which, of course, government agencies are from time to time. But it is not fair to NNSA, and it’s terribly cruel to Asher.
The whole thing just seems petty and obnoxious to me. I wish it would stop.