Fixing the Government: Voters and Candidates
I’m not adept at writing about politics or the government, but I’m too annoyed with the topic to ignore it. This is part two in my series on fixing the government. Today I want to talk about voters and candidates.
Let’s start with some basics. I think there is a general misunderstanding among the voting public that the United States of America is a democracy. This is not true. A pure democracy is a country where all issues are brought up for vote and the side with the greatest number of votes wins. I believe that I’ve heard it referred to as a “mobocracy” in the past. When you think about it, a pure democracy is generally not a great idea.
Interestingly, the founding fathers were well aware of this. Here are some quotes that show their feelings on the matter.
John Quincy Adams – “The experience of all former ages had shown that of all human governments, democracy was the most unstable, fluctuating and short-lived.”
Noah Webster – “Therefore a pure democracy is generally a very bad government. It is often the most tyrannical government on earth.”
Pretty harsh eh? Think about it though, how would you like to live in a place that could take a vote and declare that your religion is now illegal or that people in the rural areas of the country have to pay higher taxes than people in the cities? Both would be possible depending on what seems good to a majority of the population.
The founding fathers knew this was problematic so they avoided it. Instead, they built a Democratic Republic. A republic is a type of government that is similar to a monarchy, but instead of a king or queen you have a group of people working to build laws that govern the people. Rome was a republic led by various consuls for nearly 500 years before Octavian became Augustus Caesar, first emperor of the Roman Empire.
A democratic republic merges both into a government where the public votes to elect the people who will represent them in the republic. So instead of leaders being chosen based on wealth or political intrigue they are chosen in a fair election by the people. At least, that’s how it’s supposed to work.
See, this is where we come in. As voters it is our job to monitor the potential candidates for government office diligently so that we can vote for the person who will best represent us when they leave for the state or national government. We all do that, right? Think again, most of us don’t. Unfortunately, the only ones who seem to be taking their responsibility seriously are the party extremists who are going to vote in a specific direction regardless of the person running for the office. On the other hand, the middle ground tends to be disinterested unless they are personally engaged in a pet topic.
The candidates can’t ignore the middle ground though. The middle ground is vast. In fact, the zealots tend to cancel each other out, meaning that it’s the candidate the captures the votes of the middle ground that will win an election. So, if you’re trying to get elected, the sensible thing is to target the things that the middle ground voters care about and set a position that attracts the majority of them. There’s a problem though. When a candidate is running for a specific political party they have already adopted a standard set of positions and it is difficult to maintain your party support if you try too hard to please the middle. In other words, you’ll lose your zealots if you don’t say what they are used to hearing.
The result? We get stuck voting on a bunch of candidates who seem to contradict themselves as they dance between maintaining their party support and wooing the middle ground. In the old days this was much easier, but in today’s world of instant information the hypocrisy is maddening. So who wins? Two types of candidates, those who seem the most sincere and those who pick the right issue at the right time. Our recent presidential election is a good example. President Obama was a consummate politician doing the normal dance. The thing that set him apart was his ability to convince the voters that he believed in his rhetoric and that he could make it happen.
Was he unstoppable? No, another good candidate who had a strong background and positive reputation in money management and economics could have won the day, particularly if he shared Obama’s oratory skill. John McCain possesses none of those skills however, and was completely overmatched.
Here’s the point, the middle ground isn’t paying attention. This is why we end up with candidates that so many of us don’t trust or like. We’re ready to chase to brightest shiny penny that someone puts in front of us. As a result, our elected officials do not truly represent the beliefs of the country when they vote on items. This isn’t their failure, it’s ours. If we were doing things right, then we should be able to count on the people that we elect to be good, moral people. They would be strong leaders who are more interested in listening and making changes for the better than pushing preconceived agendas. We don’t have that, I don’t know if we’ve ever had it, but we should.
In business there is saying – You get what you measure. This means that teams will do what they have to do to meet goals in the area that they are measured in, even at the expense of other critical performance opportunities. For example, if you set a call center goal of taking 1 minute calls, then you can rest assured that your call center will finish their calls in 1 minute. The problem is that they will provide terrible service and probably hang up on callers to meet that goal. What good is that? No good at all.
This rule of thumb is apropos in our political system as well. Our politicians have a scorecard. When a politician is elected they are green, everyone who doesn’t get elected is red. As a result, the politicians and their advisors have been studying the candidates that win the elections. Why? So they can imitate them. As a result, we are inundated with candidates who have a hard time telling the truth because they are too concerned with telling us what they think we want to hear. We are treated to dancer after dancer because history has shown that candidates who dance around the questions the best are the ones that are going to get elected.
Are these the people who are going to stand up for what they believe in when the going gets tough? No, they are the ones that are going to try to please everybody they deal with. They only people that they aren’t concerned with pleasing are the constituency that they are supposed to be representing. At least, not until election time. That’s when they will do one or two things that are voter-centric so that they can point to them during the election. Then they will start their song and dance again and count on their name recognition to get them back into office again and again so that they can continue the cycle.
Yes I’m frustrated; there have got to be better ways to govern ourselves. I get even more frustrated when I start talking about the lobbies that have such a profound impact on American policy. I’ll get into that next week. And then, hopefully, I’ll have some suggestions that actually make sense.
Until then, Be Blessed.