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October 9, 2010

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Would you hire somebody to work for you who had no training or experience at all in your industry? (Other than a close relative, that is.)

It would appear that a lot of people are seriously considering doing just that in 2010.

According to  a USA Today/Gallup poll taken in June, 60% of voters — and 70% of those registered GOP — prefer someone who’s never served in Congress to someone who has; and 63% of those polled said most members of Congress don’t deserve re-election.

(However, only 50% think their very own congressional representative ought to be booted.)

The classic old mantra, “Throw the bums out,” is being chanted with new vigor. “Career politician” is the epithetical catchphrase du jour in attack ads on TV and stump speeches by challengers.  And “anti-incumbent fever” seems to appear in every third political headline or news lead-in, regardless of whether the reportage is done by Fox, MSNBC or Der Spiegel.

With some exceptions (e.g. Arlen Specter), the actual election results so far don’t support the theory that 2010 will go down in history as the year that incumbency became a liability, but certain outcomes (e.g. Alvin Green) and some polls suggest that it could be, at minimum, a rough year for those seeking RE-election.

Somebody needs to say a few words in support of  the poor, beleaguered, put-upon veteran pols who are out there shaking hands and kissing babies with bull’s eyes on their backs.

So here we go:

It takes time to learn the ropes and become effective at any level of government — even the tiniest town council. As term limits legislation has demonstrated in state after state, forcing people out of office after 6-8 years not only does not give greater power to the people, it does worse: it actually strengthens the shadow government comprised of unelected influentials like lobbyists and certain tenured staffers. For proof, see the Florida Legislature. Once consistently rated first or second among all 50 state legislatures, it has become progressively less responsive to the needs of the people and more obeisant to special interests since term limits took effect in 2000.

Policy made by people without a clue as to how government works or concern for long-term implications can be dangerous, and the results of such a decision-making process can be seen most vividly in California. Whether or not it becomes America’s “first failed state,” as some now predict, much of the instability afflicting the Golden State was caused by what is often hyped as “direct democracy,” but actually is re-directed democracy — on solipsistic steroids.

Across the past 30+ years, Californians repeatedly bypassed the rational, deliberative, moderating legislative process and enacted a number of landmark laws by ballot initiative (e.g. Prop 13, 1978). More than a few of them were conjured up and promoted by special interest groups, and this is one of the major factors that has led to California’s present condition. Troy Senk summed it up neatly in a brilliant piece last year in National Affairs. when he wrote: “In a grim irony, Californians are now being taxed like socialists and subsidized like libertarians.”

The Bad Guys absolutely should be removed from office. At every level.  So should the incompetent ones. And the mediocre ones. But with whom shall we replace them?

Ours is a representative form of government. Meaning that, just as your employee population has its share of dimwits and dullards alongside the superstars and sharpshooters, so do our congress and our legislature and our city commission and our school board.

The best we can do as citizens is to weed out the really bad guys and run them off before they do too much damage, and then help the incompetent and the mediocre by giving them consistent input and encouragement. Oh, yeah: and whenever we get one who’s really, really good — support him or her and make sure he or she gets re-elected. At least, as long as term limits will allow…

By the way: Ronald Reagan was a career politician.

Donna Dupuy
Donna Dupuy
Donna Dupuy is a marketing and PR consultant for professional practitioners, service providers, and progressive political entities.

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