Are Politicians Reflections of Ourselves?
Nowadays, popularity of politicians is at an all-time low. So much so in fact, that according to a New York Times article published earlier this week, “President Obama is heading into his re-election campaign with plans to step up his offensive against an unpopular Congress.” Isn’t it ironic that the strategy of one unpopular politician is to capitalize on the self-same weakness in others?
A Real Clear Politics average poll shows Congressional job approval to be at a historic low of 12.5%. The country is troubled but there is little faith in elected leadership to steer the country to better times, as Politicians are viewed by many to be dishonest, cushioned, unprincipled and often even childish.
But let’s face it, when analyzing the criticism, one often finds that the critique essentially addresses the political instinct necessary in appealing to a broad base. Bluntly, we are upset with politicians because they pander to us, we don’t trust them because they don’t lead, taking one position on one day and subsequently switching it, constantly polling their constituents before making decisions. Seemingly, their fickle nature often collectively reflects ours.
Our system of representative democracy is structured this way, intimately tying the success of any political leader to the will of the people. So why do we blame politicians for the country’s ills, when in reality they are just representatives of our collective selves?
If this is the case, then perhaps a radical shift in focus throughout the process of selecting our leaders can breed a new generation of political competence and help to lift the country back up on its feet.
Nowadays it seems that our greatest focus and priority in deciding who to vote for, is on ideology. Debates center on where candidates stand on any number of issues and their campaigns challenge each others adherence to party dogma. President Obama’s success came in his departure from the outlook of George W. Bush, and today he attacks Republican policies and ideas as widening the gap between rich and poor.
The big questions that voters are asking, on both sides of the aisle, are about where politicians stand ideologically. As a result when the popularity of an idea shifts the stance of the elected representative is likely to move with it.
If however, the primary concern of voters was less focused on opinion and more focused on the general competence of a particular candidate, a more stable and consistent political climate could be created, setting the stage for comprehensive and organized problem solving. Trust between the electorate and the elected would be increased as ability is not a fluid quality that is subject to voting whims. If the guy is good, he is good and will be respected by friend and foe alike.
A dear friend of mine, who was formerly among Wall Street’s foremost analysts recently told me of a meeting that he had attended some time in the 1980’s with former British Prime Minister Margret Thatcher. He was most impressed when in the course of the discussions, she repeatedly referenced in great detail the annual reports of various American fortune 500 companies, even offering specific strategic advise, “She was the CEO of the CEO’s” he said.
How would Apple Inc. have fared if the ideas of Steve Jobs were put to vote? Or any company for that matter that selected its leaders based on the popularity of their ideas. Quite rightly, capability, relevant experience and overall qualification are the most sought after qualities of corporate leadership, why should a country be any different?
The upcoming presidential election is pivotal for the future of the American people and the arena of presidential discourse is replete with ideological finger pointing. If we are to bridge the real gulf between politicians and those that they serve we must learn to place dogma aside and reward ability in the ballot box.