Our republic is built on the idea that we, the people, voluntarily elect leaders to make a large number of decisions for us so that we have the time and energy to pursue our own ideas of success and prosperity. We grant these leaders power through our orderly process of elections, and it works well – even with its shortcomings.
Our country has developed a ‘lifecycle’ for our elected leadership: preparation of individuals through their own means to become viable candidates; selection of ‘pools’ of candidates that can stand for election to office; election to office; and finally, governance by those elected. What we are experiencing with our current situation is a breakdown in some of the parts of this lifecycle–mostly because we’re not paying attention to the whole lifecycle.
Through the years, the ‘never ending campaign’ has gone from notional idea to hard edged reality, as the cadre of professional strategists, fund raisers, advisors and pundits has grow from a part time cottage industry to a full blown sector of the economy. This expansion has placed far too much effort on the process of election, to the detriment of the other parts of the cycle.
We’re barely halfway through the first year of the second term of President Obama, and already the new sites and blogs are going full throttle on the way the national elections in 2016 are shaping up. With posturing starting before the end of the first year of an incumbent’s term, we should perhaps take a few minutes to reflect on what we’re doing before we create another debacle in electing the President. We’re 14 months from the mid year elections in 2014 to choose a new Congress and one third of the Senate as well, and thankfully, there’s still some time to influence that process.
In one way or another since the Tea Party emerged on the scene, there has been a consistent consensus that our elected officials “work for us” but have become more and more insulated from the public that they serve. I’ve heard many variations in my lifetime about how we need to have the right sort of people govern us, but we continue to trivialize and ‘media-soak’ the electoral process, guaranteeing that we will not attract and elect the right kind of leadership. If we pursue our intent to ‘throw out the establishment’ in Washington in favor of more responsive and effective leadership — something that I very much favor — then we probably should not use the same methods that got us into this mess in the first place. Einstein is attributed with the observation that “Problems cannot be solved by the same level of thinking that created them.” I emphatically agree. If we are selecting a very important group of ’employees’ then perhaps we need to find a way to do a better job of selecting the candidate “pool,” interviewing them and approving them for the positions they are to hold. And then we have to do the hard work of supervision.
We elect our national representatives to serve in our place to make decisions and set the course for the country. This is a very complex thing to do in a modern world, and it takes a special kind of person with a sound mind, high moral character and a certain amount of selflessness to be the sort of leader that our nation needs. We need to put more thought into just what sort of preparation should be ‘the norm’ to handle this role on our behalf. Expertise in history and law, an understanding of economics and some aspect of our modern society(for example, technology, medicine, business, education) and some exposure to the rest of the world and its cultures would be a plus. Preparing to become an elected leader should mean some mastery of many these things and more than acquaintance with the others, as well as the ability to write and speak so that their primary role as representative of the people can be successful. Do not misunderstand my desire for mastery with the accumulation of degrees or credentials from ‘the right schools’ – there are a lot of learned people who don’t go to the Ivy League — or any league — that would be suited for leadership.
Selecting the ‘pool’ of qualified people to serve as representatives should be relatively easy through the consensus of networks within the community. Our Founders understood that this would be most easily done “locally” — each community or state, with an impartial and strong “press” should be well informed enough to understand who the best leaders are, almost by osmosis. Early on in our history, with a small population, people who were capable of leadership stood out and were well known; the same is true today, but in a different way. We need to really figure this out — and I don’t believe it will be on the basis of ‘walls,’ 140 character bursts of wisdom, or paid staff in ‘new media’ or ‘public relations.’ There is a way to get to know the ‘right person’ through networking and being aware of your local community and state. If this was done more effectively, it would perhaps result in the need for less fundraising and ‘messaging’ for the campaign.
Elections are meant to be brief decision points where people gather with the facts and understanding that they have and make informed choices, adapting to new situations. We have woefully tinkered with this concept over the past generation or so, and things haven’t really improved – many voters are casting votes to decide things for which they only have superficial understanding, to the detriment of all of us. Some voters cast ballots with no understanding — because they’re dead or otherwise nonexistent, but that’s another story. As I mention above, the ‘never ending campaign’ mode that we find ourselves immersed in has just made this more pronounced. This has become markedly worse in the past 40 years as elections have become more about ‘marketing’ and ‘message’ and less about substance and confirmation. In the 1950s, when Eisenhower ran for President, there was no need to “introduce” him to the nation; through his actions during WWII and various speeches between 1945 and 1952, it was easy to understand who he was and what to expect from him. The same was true of Ronald Reagan in 1980. His previous work as Governor of California and the many speeches and radio spots that he did were well known across the country. The same has not been true of late, and the results are pretty clear – we have a President that we really have no depth of understanding about, and we have many leaders in Congress who are still somewhat of an enigma. We run the risk of equating elapsed time of media coverage with true leadership and ability — there is a balance to be found here, with media coverage being counterbalanced with actual achievement.
We seem to have lost the whole point of the process, which is governance. We go through this cycle of preparation, selection and election so that we can place people ‘in charge’ and go on with our lives. If they truly are our ’employees,’ it is natural that they should bear some supervision, but the whole idea is for them to carry out their responsibilities with integrity while we go about living our lives. Because we are failing at the first stages of the cycle, we find it necessary to spend a lot of time writing letters, attending town halls and otherwise consuming effort to ensure that these leaders are doing what they are ‘hired’ to do. This is a drag on our own “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” — unless you are really a ‘political junkie.’ We can improve this by holding our leaders to their assigned Constitutional Boundaries and by not asking them to solve every problem — like California is doing with legislation on transgender bathrooms, for example.
We should also do a better job of removing those who fail to do what we expect from office – but that demands that we have a new source of better leadership to draw from, which is sadly not always the case. Which brings us back to the first part – preparation — making sure that we have a continuous supply of the right people for “ourselves and our posterity.”
Ronald Reagan spoke of the party as ‘the mechanism” to find the right people for office and get them elected. I believe he was onto something there. The mission of the party should be to prepare, equip and elect candidates that represent the party’s ideals and will effectively carry those ideals into governance. We need to spend more time thinking of this than worrying about social outreach and inclusion — the right candidates can attract the votes, as the special election in California where a Republican won in a ‘minority’ district will attest.