There is a reason that cream does not rise to the top in the political process. Politics in America is a blood sport which disincentivizes decent candidates from running for office. What we get are packaged commodities uttering banalities that appeal to the gullible and pollsters. Yet people still see politics as a noble enterprise where leaders can bring about positive change. They don’t.
By Jeffrey Harding
President Kennedy once said, “Mothers all want their sons to grow up to be president, but they don’t want them to become politicians in the process.”
That’s a cynical, but accurate, view of how we see politics. That view has not changed much over the last 231 years of American electoral politics. If anything it is a blood sport where lies, falsehoods, fibs, and half-truths are the norm. Of course, your party doesn’t do that, it’s the other side that is horrible.
If you run for any federal office be prepared for a fistfight. You will be branded as something slightly above a child molester, your positions and record will be lied about, and the media will either love or hate you. It’s absurd, Kafkaesque. That’s why good people don’t relish going through a meat grinder to gain power. With those obstacles in mind you should ask yourself what kind of person would want to go through that. The quick answer is, the ones who want power. Then ask yourself what kind of person is willing to do almost anything to gain power over our lives. The answer should frighten you (as Lord Acton said, power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely).
The way things are going it is unlikely we will get good people to run for political office. What we get are packaged commodities uttering banalities that appeal to the gullible and pollsters. Whatever it takes to get elected. This is the meat grinder effect. If you look at the candidates for president in this year’s election you know that is true.
This election was no different than the ones for the other 44 presidents. We got Trump and Biden. Once again Trump left the pollsters befuddled by almost winning. But, because of the Trump cringe factor, even a worn out hack like Biden could beat him, but barely. Certainly there was no mandate as Biden likes to claim; most folks were glad just to get rid of Trump. I don’t think many Americans were actually proud of these candidates.
Yet, as Kennedy said, the thought of your child being president of the United States is seen as a laudable goal. There is a Girl Scout promo on TV where cute little girls are encouraged to get involved in politics when they grow up. Really? Now, I am not anti-Girl Scout and I am sure they do some great things for girls, but encouraging girls to seize the seats of power as a laudable objective is in my view a wrong turn. Perhaps I didn’t see their promos on encouraging girls to be entrepreneurs who create businesses that employ thousands and make us all better off. There are lots of women in business who are good role models and could better inspire them.
The problem is the widespread idea that politics is a way to solve society’s ills. That attracts a lot of men and women who may think they have the chops to change the world. Yet once they get in office most of them find they are just cogs in the machine. Despite that, once in they find they really love the power of office even if they never make a difference. They get a nice paycheck and benefits, people eager to gain their favor kiss up to them, the media constantly seeks their opinion, lobbyists court them. Power is addictive. Just about every member of Congress fits this profile. Even most senators. Very few are thrust into the chairs of power that actually create legislation that mean anything.
If little boys and girls really want to change the world, politics isn’t the way to do it. They should instead look for inspiration in Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, Steve Jobs, and Bill Gates who actually did change the world for the better. Their businesses employ hundreds of thousands, they churn out products and services that help hundreds of millions around the world, and they have made our lives better. What politician can say that?
I think I can make a pretty good argument that politicians do more harm than good.
There is the cause and effect factor to legislation. Much of legislation, especially in the economic realm, either never achieves the promised goals or the result is deleterious outcomes (“unintended consequences”). For example, politicians, especially Democrats, regularly promise to help the poor and create jobs. They don’t. It is the above entrepreneurs who actually do that. Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty in the mid-1960s promised to eliminate poverty. But, after spending about $22 trillion over the years to do that, the poverty rate is roughly the same as it was in Johnson’s time, about 12% to 13% of the population (according to the Census Bureau). It is not difficult to say that the War on Poverty was a total failure.
It has been the same with all government anti-poverty programs, from FDR’s New Deal, to Obama’s Change We Can Believe In: they haven’t ended, much less reduced, the poverty level. The only things that have reduced poverty are the jobs and wealth created by entrepreneurs. One would hope that these politicians would come to the realization that these programs have failed or that maybe there are other causes of poverty that the government can’t really solve. Yet they still bang the same drum.
Young, eager grads emerge from our colleges with a lot of enthusiasm, but also with a lot of bad ideas. Many just parrot what their professors drilled into them and never change or challenge those ideas. One of those ideas is that politicians can solve problems. What they don’t realize is that their cherished ideals get ground down in the political process.
During my lifetime I can think of only one truly great result from Congress that changed things for the good and that was the civil rights legislation of 1964 and 1965 that ended segregation and guaranteed voting rights to African-Americans in the South. Other than a few instances where the government’s heavy hand over the economy was lessened, not much good has emerged in the past 55 years.
So, with apologies to Willie and Waylon, “Mamas don’t let your babies grow up to be politicians, let them be like Musk and Jobs and such.”