Monday, October 16, 2006

Election Candidate Qualities

One of the nicer compliments I have received since I began blogging, is that some people think I should run for office. While I am flattered by such confidence, I am also well aware that I would not do half so well in office as my supporters believe. This is for a number of reasons, which I mention here in the course of understanding what a mess we have in general with our elected officials.

The American system of politics is, for all its flaws, the best in the world. With an eye towards people named Foley, Reid, Schumer, or Murtha, this suggests that the world in general is really hurting for quality leadership. Part of this is due to the way the system works. Prior to, say, the start of the Reagan Administration, democratic republics were few in practice. In the past quarter-century, this has changed significantly, to such a point that even a oligarchy like Communist China feels a greater need to actually listen to its citizens than in past years. But while installing a system which listens and responds to voters is a good idea, there are always problems to be worked out due to the change in culture and the local conditions. Anyone familiar with American History between the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812 (apparently around one-half percent of the American public) will recall the chaos surrounding the development of the first political party and its opposition. While the first direct conflict began as a result of the 1824 elections, the causes were in place as soon as the Congress realized it could control the course of legislation.

Fast forward to 2006. Running for any office requires not only the desire and a reasonable belief that you are qualified, but the backing of a political party as well and/or considerable personal resources. As an example, look at the four candidates for Governor of Texas – Rick Perry and Chris Bell are backed by the Republicans and Democrats, and by that I mean those parties pretty much locked out any other candidates. This brings up Carole Keaton Strayhorn, a bitter renegade who used to be a Republican, but when she did not get the party’s support, she went guerrilla and started up her own run on the strength of her own bank account, notoriety, and ego. Then there is Kinky Friedman, a man singularly unqualified for an executive position, especially in the public trust, but because of his money and fame there he is on the ballot. Now I have made clear that many people would be better qualified to serve as Governor (including me) than these four candidates. But what these four well-dressed - and more to the point well-known - clowns have in common is that their names are recognized, they have a lot of money to invest into the race, and they have backers behind the scenes who create the marketing for the candidate, everything from focus groups for issue positions to advertising campaigns tailored to key demographics. And this, I think, is one reason why the GOTV effort is so hard for each party - people are unhappily aware that the ticket never offers the most capable person, the person with the highest integrity, or the person least likely to abuse their responsibility. We always get the less-than-excellent, and everyone knows it.

The blogosphere, I hope, can and will address this. But it will take a long time at best, and there will have to be serious reform at the grassroots level, and a willingness to radically alter the mindset that believes that only someone handed down from a national or state committee can be a viable candidate. I am optimistic enough to think this will happen, and in my lifetime. And I suspect it will be the rebirth of the Democratic Party. I say this because only desperate people are willing to try new and unproven things, and between the two major parties the GOP is relatively successful with its routine, and therefore disinclined to accept the risk of nominating ordinary people for office. Democrats continue to lose at every level however, and at some point they will be forced, at the peril of their existence as a party, to reform and regroup. And when that happens, they wil rediscover the party of Grover Cleveland, and of Harry Truman; the party willing to do the hard work to get the job done. Democrats will lose most of their lock on the minority vote, but it will force them to pay attention to the country's core values, and those are best espoused and performed by regular folks.

Why not a police officer for Attorney General?

Why not an engineer for Governor?

Why not a middle-management accountant for President?

Sure, those jobs do not automatically suggest those roles. But why in hell does anyone think that lawyers and career politicians are better fits for the country's leadership, than people who really work for a living and see the world at street level?

Before 1824, regular citizens were not "allowed" to vote directly for a candidate running for President.

Before 1865, only whites could vote.

Before 1869, no woman could vote anywhere in the United States, and before 1920 only men could vote in federal elections.

Things change over time, and we can get past some bad habits. It's time we found a way to get normal people into the jobs which most affect normal people.


Mark L said...

"Before 1869, no woman could vote anywhere in the United States, and before 1920 only men could vote in federal elections."

Actually, that is not true. In 1792, women in New Jersey could vote as "head of household," if the household met the property requirements. More correctly, each household got a vote, and either the man or woman could cast it. Generally, this limited the vote to widows, but women could vote.

The law was amended to exclude women after the Democrats took charge of the New Jersey legislature in the early 1800s. It seems that women voted almost exclusively for the non-Democratic candidate (this was before ballots were secret), and the Democrats felt that they would have a better chance to win if women were excluded from franchise. (This was in the book "Founding Fathers.)

Also, women could vote in Wyoming from the time it became a state. This included Federal elections, because the voting pool was set by the states back then. (That was the reason for the Voting Rights Act -- to federalize eligibility.)

Anna said...

I think the internet will change elections as we know them. They already have. People around the country are communicating through chat rooms and blogs and "the word" is getting out there without the bias of the media.