Meet the Mad Scientist Who Was President-in-Waiting

Ernest Moniz was the administration’s “designated survivor” during the State of the Union.

Energy Secretary and hair fashion pioneer Edward Moniz.
National Journal
Patrick Reis
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Patrick Reis
Jan. 28, 2014, 3:42 p.m.

Chances are, Tues­day night is as close as Ern­est Mon­iz will ever get to the pres­id­ency.

Mon­iz, the cur­rent En­ergy sec­ret­ary, was the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s “des­ig­nated sur­viv­or” — the Cab­in­et mem­ber as­signed to hide in an un­dis­closed loc­a­tion in case, heav­en for­bid, the worst were to oc­cur while Con­gress and the rest of the ad­min­is­tra­tion as­sembled for the State of the Uni­on ad­dress.

But what would the Mon­iz ad­min­is­tra­tion have looked like?

For one, it would have been the first cap­tained by a phys­i­cist: Pri­or to join­ing the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion in 2013, Mon­iz was a pro­fess­or of phys­ics and en­gin­eer­ing at the Mas­sachu­setts In­sti­tute of Tech­no­logy. He also holds a Stan­ford Uni­versity doc­tor­ate in the­or­et­ic­al phys­ics. And if past is pro­logue, Mon­iz wouldn’t shy away from talk­ing sci­ence.

His latest post on the En­ergy De­part­ment blog is titled “Wide Bandgap Semi­con­duct­ors: Es­sen­tial to Our Tech­no­logy Fu­ture.” Those look­ing for light­er fare can refer to his earli­er work: “New Steps to Strengthen Our En­ergy In­fra­struc­ture.”

Mon­iz is not a politi­cian, but he’s not a novice to gov­ern­ing either. He served as the En­ergy De­part­ment’s un­der­sec­ret­ary dur­ing the second half of Pres­id­ent Clin­ton’s ten­ure. And in his policy, he’s been the type of com­prom­iser who makes just about every­body mad: En­vir­on­ment­al groups have been wary of his em­brace of nat­ur­al gas, while he prob­ably didn’t en­dear him­self to the Right by de­clar­ing that he’s “not in­ter­ested in de­bat­ing what is not de­bat­able” when it comes to hu­man-in­duced cli­mate change.

More than any­thing else, however, Mon­iz has drawn at­ten­tion for his hair, which is a mix of Pres­id­ent Wash­ing­tonBack to the Fu­ture‘s Doc Brown, and Javi­er Bardem’s seri­al-killing char­ac­ter in No Coun­try for Old Men.

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