Monday, April 12, 2010

How We Created the Mess in Washington, Part 1

(This is the first of a three-part series.)
Most discussions of cleaning up the mess in Washington begin and end with a single fallacy: the belief that, if we elect the right people to the right offices, everything will be all right. I used to believe that.
When I was a young man working my way toward a baccalaureate in political science, I tried to convince others to vote for so-and-so because he would improve things. An old man said to me something like, “Even if you elected Billy Graham to Congress, he’d soon be corrupt.” I didn’t want to believe it.
In part, you and I have caused the problem of corruption in Washington. We wanted to take the easy way by finding great men who would absolve us of the responsibility of managing our own government. Now we’re faced with the task of taking our country back.
While great men often make a difference in the course of history, a greater difference is made by millions of people toiling in obscurity—or failing to toil when they should. Voters tend to elect people who are primarily actors and salesmen and expect them to be magicians and political think tanks. Part of the problem is not that voters expect too much of their congressmen but that they expect too little of themselves.
When Jimmy Carter was running for President in 1976, he promised a “government as good as” the American people. Actually, the promise wasn’t necessary because, whomever we elected, we’d get a government as good as we were. H. L. Mencken put it another way: “Democracy is based on the belief that the people know what they want and deserve to get it good and hard.”
If that sounds harsh, think of how we decide which “great man” is to become our Wizard of Oz in Washington. I’ve already pointed out the error of electing actors and salesmen to do the job of problem solvers and opportunity creators.
How else are our “public servants” chosen?
For one, it helps if a candidate has a full head of hair that’s well-coiffed. After the age of 25, the chances of a man experiencing substantial hair loss is around 25%.. From that point on, his age closely matches the chances of him having substantial hair loss. Since the average male U. S. senator is 66 years old, 66% of the 83 males in the Senate (or 54 senators) should be showing substantial hair loss. Remember, though, that they were first elected to the Senate when they had more hair.
Take a look at their pictures and dates of birth at the Wikipedia page. Just for fun, find the senators who are your age or older and compare your hair to theirs. What’s Chris Dodd doing with a full head of hair at the age of 65? What’s Robert Byrd doing with that much hair at the age of 93? And get a load of John Kerry, at the age of 66! Did he mug a high school student and take his hair?
I don’t have enough hair even for a hair transplant, unless I had it transplanted from a bird dog. I’m afraid that, if I did, I’d fall into the habit of pointing at everything.
Height is another factor in how we elect our officials and make other choices. Several different surveys have shown that height is a significant factor in hiring salesmen, selecting corporate CEO’s, and electing modern Presidents.
And when was the last time America elected a fat President? I believe the last one was William Howard Taft way back in 1908. Judging from the Wikipedia photos, several U.S. senators are overweight, but still more slender on the average than most people their age.
It also helps if the candidate has a face made for television and a voice made for radio.
I’m not appealing to anyone’s sense of envy. All those qualities really shouldn’t disqualify a candidate from consideration. Columbia, South Carolina, radio personality and narrator John Wrisley (in his eighties!) has all of those qualities, and I’d vote for him in a heartbeat. I’d vote for him because I know him, his abilities, and his views. No, he’s not running for political office and probably never has. It’s a shame.
What I’m saying is, we shouldn’t disqualify a candidate simply because he has a head like a billiard ball or a body like Bilbo Baggins or a face and voice like Gollum. Nor should we vote for a candidate because he’s an excellent actor or salesman. (John Wrisley has also been an actor.) Congressional candidates are running for a position in which they’ll be expected to find or make solutions and opportunities for their constituents. As voters, our criteria for hiring should fit the position.


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