Monday, October 10, 2005

American Political Rhetorical Devices That Bug, Vol. 1

An article on the upcoming SF City Assessor's race illustrates nicely the campaign rhetorical device I hate most: Non-politicians running for political office.

The in-crowd, outsider narrative is as old as our country (historians rest easy - I know it's older than that, but for purposes of this discussion . . .). We're a country of outsider/outlaws who broke away from mother England and established a republic based on citizen rule which means, depending on which Framer you follow, that legislators should either be short-serving everymen or everyman who can serve a little longer.

David Dreier once told me that he doesn't see a problem with his lifelong congressional service because when the Founders envisioned a government filled with all kinds - farmers, doctors, etc - they would've also been fine with professional congressman. I happen to agree with him (sorta - mostly I'm in awe of the reasoning, brilliant and cagey as it is) but that may be only because my particular skills set and training is pretty much geared toward, well, legislating.

Agree with his politics or not, at least he's honest about being a politician. Many politicians - especially people who are spending thousands of dollars to become politicians - spill a lot of ink and cash insisting they are no such thing.

Former LA mayoral candidate and political offspring of run-government-like-a-business (Device That Bugs, Vol. 2) Dick Riordan, Steve Soboroff's signs read "a problem solver, not a politician."

Newsflash: if you're posting blue and white standard-sized campaign signs around town you. are. a. politician. Or at least you're really hoping to be one.

And frankly, why shouldn't you be? And frankly, your constituents will be much better served if you're willing and able to play the game long enough to bring home the bacon (it's only pork if it's cooking in someone else's district).

In the assessor's race, I wonder how Supervisor Sandoval paints himself as an outsider. The three candidates aren't giving each other any breaks - each charging the other two of being too political and motivated by personal interest, etc. One is accused of being more political than the apolitical he claims to be after having expressed interests in other elected offices.

At the end of the day, it's a wonder we get anything done at all, since it seems voters want assurances that their candidates are qualified for . . . well, something other than leading in government. Some do get by on the experience-in-office narrative (see: Bush, George W. - circa 2004, that is). But for the most part, we the people still allow our would-be representatives and executives to get away with applying for a job and highlighting their inexperience in the interview. Thanks but no thanks. I want someone who can get things done, isn't ashamed about that ability, and someone gusty enough to force voters to raise their expectations of elected officials and of themselves.


Anonymous said...

I know it's rather simplistic and extreme, but my position on "career politicians" has been that I would prefer them to "amateur" politicians much the same way that if I were going to have a surgery, I would prefer that the surgery is done by a career doctor, as opposed to an amateur doctor.

Heather said...

Can I get an Amen?!

All this huffing about how lousy things are under the most recent redistricting ignores the fact that most of the current dysfunction can be laid squarely at the feet of term limits!

Anonymous said...

Term limits came about because legislators created kingdoms handing out patronage to enhace their longevity in office. Maybe we are confusing government (a management organization) with politics (a systemic method of attaining control of the government)through "democracy" (election of politicians by voters who are manipulated by various means.)Steve Lee9

Anonymous said...

I would like to see "No Sleazier Than Necessary" used as a campaign slogan. - J'Myle's father

Anonymous said...

Term limits came about because one side wanted to smack down the other (where "one side" = Reeps and "the other" = willie brown).

Another set of legislators wanted a shot to create kingdoms - just little ones, the sand castle versions, if you will. Stil grand, while they last.

Your definitions are cute but inaccurate, mainly because you vastly underestimate politic's reach.

Anonymous said...

Don't you think peopel who have done something besides campaign, go to law school and work as wonks have a perspective that helps be a strong elected official?

As a law school/campaign/wonk type, I recognize that it can be a limiting experience. Having people with diverse life expereince (teachers, business people, farmers, doctors, consultants, whatever) in the decision making role of elected official can improve government. You need people with experience running day to day operations but I believe having an "outsider" as the decision maker can work.

Anonymous said...

Sure people who have done other things are valuable. But people who have done those things are no less valuable for having done them. And that's a related but seperate point to my main thrust which is that people who campaign for public office on the platform of not being - or worse yet that they'll NEVER be a - politician are just being disingenuous.

Diverse backgrounds are great. But they need to be open to learning the ropes and voters should stop being sold some bill of goods that knowing how to legislate and work within a legislative body is a bad thing. There is a game. Play it and your constituents are winners. Refuse it and you and they get screwed.