Monday, December 27

We Like to Say "It's Really Our Fault"

People commonly like to say that "it's the voters fault that our elected officials are so XXX", where XXX runs the gamut from cowardly, grasping, short-sighted, and so on. That is to say, it is the voters who are really to blame for the quality of our elected officials. This is, of course, just taking the easy way out. It seems to be a theme I'm running up against. A common thesis I've been touting these days (following the venerable John Adams) is that we should never complain about what "might have been", or "what is wrong" without also proposing how to make things better. So, what should we do to fix either the voters or the process to make it more likely that those elected are individuals in which we can take pride?

So we like to point out the failings of our elected officials? Heck, I do it just as much as the next guy. I'm on record on this blog blandly calling our esteemed senators 'that band of chuckleheads'. But it does no real good to complain if we don't also offer a way to improve matters. Now, as a matter of fact, I don't truly believe our elected officials are self-centered greedy cretins. It just seems that way sometimes. In fact, with probably very few exceptions, they are largely honest hard-working intelligent people. In fact, that honesty is what gets them in trouble so much of the time. It's just that they are honestly representing the people who got them elected and fulfilling the promises made (behind closed doors) which got them elected. On the down side many of them, almost certainly, have a superiority complex about their understanding of government, the issues, and "what is best" for the ignorant voters who got them elected.

So, how do we get the elected officials we want? Campaign finance reform was held out as the saving grace which would be the band aid. After all, then those honest officials wouldn't be making promises to special interest groups to get the dollars they needed to run the campaign. It didn't work. It won't work much for the same reason that Christians can't secularize Christmas anymore. Trillions of dollars are at stake. You can't stop a flood of money and the interests of that many people with a few good intentions.

Before you decide how to get the leaders we want, we should agree on what qualities we wish to improve in our leaders. I would contend that the biggest problem with our leaders today is that they are politicians, not statesmen. The deal, the edge, the party, the process, and the short term political gains all outweigh the long term big picture. Nobody cares about 10 years from now, much less two centuries. The great statesmen that penned our Constitution were forced to consider long term posterity, but nobody toady is required to think past the next election cycle. A politician who considers much past that only does so when dreaming (or planning) his own political goals.

So what would I propose, in order to get what we want? As a blogger, and therefore great mover and shaker of public opinion (hah!), I would contend that we not look too closely at the feet of clay our leaders might have. Let's face it, they do. We should support those in office who look to the long term and have shown the character necessary to buck the current of popular opinion. Cut the rest off at the knees, (uhm) I mean not support (or do excoriate) them.

Finally, the media (MSM and bloggers as well) could assist in this effort by resisting the stampede effect. Don't join a stampede on a topic unless you have some original insight to add. Consider if the topic is germane and worthy of attention. Perhaps reflect on how, re-reading that opinion piece 10 years down the road, what you write will support or detract from that high opinion you would like to have of your past self. If it's just a piece of partisan drivel, don't publish. Spare us, and your country, the trouble you'll be stirring. Seek out and encourage our proto-statesmen. Find those men of courage and tell us about them. Find our heroes, tell us about them, but please don't show us that their feet, too, are made of clay for we know that already.