Incompetence as credential

28 09 2010

You’ve heard the old line: Even the mediocre deserve representation.

A version of this was offered by Senator Roman Hruska of Nebraska, in defense of Richard Nixon’s nomination of Judge G. Harrold Carswell to fill a vacancy on the US Supreme Court, and a man many considered manifestly unqualified:

Even if he were mediocre, there are a lot of mediocre judges and people and lawyers. They are entitled to a little representation, aren’t they, and a little chance? We can’t have all Brandeises, Frankfurters and Cardozos.

Ha ha, right?

Okay, but how about this: Christine O’Donnell, Senate candidate in Delaware, argues that her financial difficulties (being sued 5 times by her college for not paying bills, threatened foreclosure on her home, a declared income in March 2009-July2010 of under 6 grand) not only do not disqualify her from office, but that “I think the fact that I have struggled financially is what makes me so sympathetic.”

Or consider Michael Caputo, campaign manager for New York gubernatorial candidate Carl Paladino, who had a lien placed against his assets by the IRS: “Most people I know have had problems paying their taxes,” he said. “I am just like everybody else.”

And then, of course, there is the half-guv, who winked her way into political celebrity and decided that the problem with not knowing answers to basic questions was with the questions, not the not-knowing.

My expectations for political actors isn’t high, and no, I don’t think past problems ought automatically to disqualify someone from political participation. That Sarah Palin mucked about a couple of different colleges before she settled on one which worked for her, well, hell, so what: she was a college student, fer cryin’ out loud.

And financial and job difficulties, yeah, a lot of people have gone through them, and that doesn’t mean they ought to be banished from public life.

The problem isn’t with the difficulties, the problem is that these difficulties are brandished as a badge of honor: Whoo-hoo! I fucked up! Vote for me!

Hey, guess what, I’ve fucked up, too! Does that mean I should be a senator or vice president? Whoo-hoo!

Yes, I am in my bones a democrat (and civic republican—but that’s another post), but to state that the people ought to be involved in their governance is not to say that a people proud of their pig ignorance will govern well.

And no, you don’t need an Ivy League education (Go Big Ten!) or a Ph.D. in political science or even a college degree to govern well. But you need to pay some goddamned attention, and to do the goddamned work necessary to make yourself able to govern.

Mother Jones is instructive here: Sit down and read. Educate yourself for the coming conflict.

That’s just smart—and that, of course, is the problem.

h/t: Robert S McElvaine, HuffPo; Ginger Gibson (story pasted to anti-O’Donnell site); Michael Barbero, NY Times;


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5 responses

28 09 2010
emilylhauser

Here, my friend, you touch on one of the enduring mysteries of the American political scene.

And when I say “enduring mysteries,” I mean: Shit that makes my eyeballs boil in my head.

I believe it was Jon Stewart who once said “I’d actually kind of like my President to be smarter than me.” Why we continue to nurture this virulent form of anti-intellectualism if positively beyond my comprehension. Aside from anything else, it hurts us.

29 09 2010
dmf

we have fostered a social/political climate where everyone feels like they have the necessary understanding to comment on every topic. for those of us who have struggled with the implications/limits of “informed” consent in medical care there are similar worries about the idea, left and right, of being an informed citizen. how much info is enough on these very complex issues?

29 09 2010
dmf

@ee (and all) are such matters really beyond our “comprehension” or are we just struggling to accept their existence? I think we often confuse the two.

2 10 2010
4 10 2010
geekhiker

Wait, massively screwing up your life qualifies one for a high political position? Dude, I should be president by now! lol

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