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Jeff Ward: Lord, Save Us From Do-Gooder Politicians

I don't know what's worse: Pollyanna altruists, career politicians or "citizen" candidates.

It’s depressing. After seven years of covering innumerable elections and dealing with countless politicians, my prognosis for the political process, while not quite terminal, is bleak.

The folks who shouldn’t think of running on their best day always do—and frequently win—while those who would make good candidates either aren’t stupid enough to run or succumb to vast stupidity along the way.

Just to be clear, we’re only talking about those political positions which actually pay a decent salary. So we can immediately cross off anyone who serves on school, park and fire boards, aldermen, mayors and county board members from our list.

Because when it comes to those low- or no-paying ultra-local gigs, you get a mix of people who run on ego and those who actually are public-service minded. Just like a Forrest Gumpian box of chocolates, you close your eyes, vote and hope for the best.

But in regard to the higher offices, an Illinois state senator once said something so profound it’s proven itself true over and over again. He told me, “The problem with so many Springfield officials is, this is the best job they’ve ever had.”

And when you really start looking into their backgrounds, it’s amazing how many of them either ran multiple businesses into the ground or couldn’t even hold a job. Eighth District U.S. Congressman Joe Walsh is the poster child for this kind of dynamic.

With nowhere left to turn, these folks turn to politics, and with their livelihood at stake, they surround themselves with the right people and manage to run competent campaigns. Because self-interest is such a powerful force, they win more often than not.

The problem becomes, as the senator saw it, they’ll do whatever it takes to it takes to stay in office.

But then we have the do-gooders, who are even worse!

“But Jeff! How can the good guys possibly be worse than these nefarious career politicians?” Oh! Trust me, they are.

It starts with their abject failure to understand that politics ain’t a game for sissies, and then it crashes and burns with their massive egos. They’ve watched one too many Matt Damon movies where the hero prevails by his sheer virtue alone.

A good friend and political operative likes to tell me that whenever one of these idealistic folks decides to run for office, they immediately lose 30 percent of their brain cells. I’d actually put it at closer to half, because something’s gotta give in order to accommodate their exponentially expanding egos.

These Pollyanna altruists don’t understand how critical it is to build a team of the right people. They either choose advisers who don’t know bleep or come up with a group of yes men who only extol their greatness for trying to save the rest of us from ourselves.

Then, when the press ignores their pearls of wisdom and their career-politician opponent starts making mincemeat out of them, they start coming to me for advice—which is scary.

In fact, they’re so ineffective at campaigning, you actually start thinking: "If they can’t handle this part of the process, do I really want to send them to Springfield?" It gets to the point where you’d rather vote for the nefarious career politician because the NCP actually knows what's going on.

And the only thing worse than these do-gooders, who we now know are even worse than the do-badders, is the “citizen” candidates who often describe themselves as a “political outsiders” and typically belong to the Tea Party.

Please, Lord! Save us from all of them and their completely clueless ways. Sarah Palin is a perfect example of how horrifying this relatively recent phenomenon can be.

Thinking they’ll change everything by their mere legislative presence, they quickly tire of politics when they realize that reform doesn’t come without patience, persistence, and perspiration.

Citizen candidates love to say things like “I’m going to run government like a business,” but you can’t, because it isn’t a business. An effective legislator has to build consensus and, since CCs have never even attempted it, they have no idea how to begin. They simply believe that whoever screams the loudest wins.

So if the answer to our A, B or C question is actually D, “none of the above” then what is the answer to this damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you do-don’t political conundrum?

1. We need to stop the relentless personal attacks on candidates so that decent people will actually want to run. The nuttier we get, the nuttier they get.

2. We need to only vote for folks who have actually accomplished something prior to running. That Springfield gig should never be the best job they ever had.

3. If it’s good enough for the president, then it’s good enough for every other elected office. Not only would term limits thrust a dagger directly in the heart of career politicians, but knowing their time is limited, they’ll be far less concerned with re-election and far more attentive to their constituents.

4. Job limits. No elected official should be allowed to work for a company that contributed to their campaign for five years after they leave office. This rule should also apply to lobbying.

5. Stop voting for “political outsiders.” They never accomplish anything. It might feel good to “throw the rascals out,” but term limits will certainly take care of that. Citizen journalists aren't taking off and neither are citizen politicians.

I understand I’ve gone on too long and these suggestions are far from perfect, but it sure beats the heck out of what we’ve got going now. 

Patrick Shannon February 22, 2012 at 02:18 PM
It's ambiguous, Tonto. Are you saying that real democrats care about health (as opposed to phony ones)? Or that democrats don't really care about your health because one of them smokes? If you're going to play the snark game, try showing a little wit or at least a little coherence.
Tonto February 22, 2012 at 02:48 PM
I'm saying, the bogus phony concern liberals have for our health is just crap to buy votes. I whish democrats didn't care so dam much about my health. No body can afford it. Clear? Think of the hypocracy of Obama being a smoker and leading the charge :)
Logansdad February 22, 2012 at 02:55 PM
And how is that any different than the phony concerns conservatives have regarding children. All you hear conservatives say is we need to protect children from this and that. To me, it is just a scare tactic to buy votes. What have conservatives done to actually protect and help children. You want to talk about hypocrisy. What about Newt Gingrich complaining about Clinton having an affair with Monica while Newt himself is having his own affair.
Tonto February 22, 2012 at 03:03 PM
I don't think Newt knocked up his teenage baby sitter as fly catcher did because he was sooo worried about children. Conservatives are not childless horned devils liberal media has spiked your bottle formula with. Liberals are always so good at stealing for themselves for "the children"
Patrick Shannon February 22, 2012 at 03:57 PM
I don't think it is useful to say that politicians are doing things because they want your vote. You want them to want your vote, don't you? Regarding health care (if we can get serious for a moment) health care reform is about costs and financing and not so much about who is smoking. Our health care system is a joke in the civilized world, mostly because it is so screwed up it makes us uncompetitive. We spend 17.9 percent of our GPA on health (compared to an average of 9 percent by everyone else) and we spend 2.5 times more per capita on doctors and hospitals than the average industrialized country, yet we come in 35th in the WHO world health rankings. This with 50 million people uninsured. Whether one cares about the uninsured or not, we're spending too much and not getting enough and it is costing us a lot of money that we need to put to other more productive uses. There is already enough money (as you can see) flowing through the system to cover the whole population. It's just that the system is warped so that this does not happen. And yet costs (as you know) are rising twice the rate of inflation (or more) each year. I could give you a technical explanation about why this is. But health care reform is about a failure in the market, not about some socialist plot. We can argue about whether we should care about the un and under insured or not. But the facts about how much we spend and how much we get are not controversial.
John J February 22, 2012 at 06:31 PM
@my opinon" you wrote: "My wallet via taxes and user fees is almost empty." I'll join you in your concern about how our taxes are spent, but as far as user fees go, I hope you mis-wrote. Surely, you are not another freeloader wanting the government to provide you with services without paying for them. Drop taxes; charge more user fees to recover the cost of that service. If it can't breakeven, drop it or privatize it. Many years ago in my HOA, many members were clamoring for more winter salting services. After all, they paid their dues and wanted more of it. At an annual meeting we gave them a presentation on how costly the commercial service was and gave them a choice, buy a bag of salt and do it yourself or pay for commercial salting with higher dues. They overwhelmingly went for the DIY approach. Fortunately we didn't have any Board members getting "campaign contributions", aka bribes, from salters. Sure, there are many government services that can't be handled that way, but we could save a lot if those who benefited from a government program and can afford it, paid their fair share. For example, it is well known that the wear and tear on our highways is due mostly to heavy truck and trailer rigs. While they do pay extra taxes vs automobiles it is nowhere near enough to cover their true share of the R&M. And why in the heck should we be giving taxpayer hand-outs to the wealthy corn and oil industries? Well, duh, "campaign contributions" aka legalized bribery.
John J February 22, 2012 at 06:48 PM
@my opinon, so your version of the great American Dream is all power to making money, all prayers to the god Money and screw the middle class and the country. Sad.
John J February 22, 2012 at 06:52 PM
To my opinion: Maybe you forgot that Congress was controlled by the Republicans. It never ceases to amaze me at how afflicted by tunnel-vision and one-sided most Republicans and some Democrats are. We need a third party that represents the middle class!
Fatima February 22, 2012 at 10:11 PM
With regard to the housing bubble that had burst and resulted in the financial meltdown, I had wanted to add that with the repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act in 1999, the financial institutions began a full-blown campaign in taking risky ventures and behaviour. The repeal removed the distinction that had been between investment banking. and commercial banks. Previously, the investment banks that had issued securities and the commercial banks which made profit through deposits became one and the same. It removed conflict-of-interest rules that had kept investment bankers from serving as officers of commercial banks. The repeal of this act allowed depositors' money to flow into risky investments. The repeal occurred during a Republican majority and the bill that was introduced into Congress was submitted by Republicans. Currently, the "too big to fail" banks have not been broken up. The GS Act should be reinstituted and there should be limit to the size a bank can become. I fear that there is a very good chance of another meltdown.
Fatima February 22, 2012 at 10:24 PM
As an added note, the Glass - Steagall Act was enacted in 1932 as an answer to one of the causes of the Great Depression. Lastly, one of my courses was under Mr Milton freidman. It was his theory that the Great Depression was a result of the Fed not coming to the aid of the banks by failing to purchase bonds, etc, allowing the banks to continue business with cash. He felt that there was a certain amount of politics and anti-semitism at play with the Fed.
Justin Eggar February 22, 2012 at 10:39 PM
Wasn't the repeal bill passed 90-8 in the senate and 362-57 in the house? With those kinds of numbers... It's becomes somewhat irrelevant as to who sponsored the bill, it was effectively supported by both sides. Both parties, and we the voters, are to blame for the mess our country is in.
Fatima February 22, 2012 at 11:58 PM
Mr Eggar, initially the vote was 54 - 44 along party lines. it went into committee and then was passed 90 - 8. President Clinton signed it afterwards. Hence, i feel your comment is correct. As it is ever so important that the electorate be a knowledgeable lot. However, when has this ever been true? Yet, there are those who feel the desire to name-call the president, shouting liar amdist the Congress as well as here. How sad for those who feel the need to indulge in this practice. it does not aid progress.
Justin Eggar February 23, 2012 at 01:03 AM
Fatima - it shouldn't be the case... But it is typical. Which is too bad. Looking back a few years, the situation was no different with George Bush. We as Americans need to tone the rhetoric down a little bit. The way our political system goes the parties demonize each other to such an extent that by the time somebody steps into office at least half of the public dislikes and perhaps despises them. It's unfortunate... Hopefully at some point in time we begin to reward politicians for taking the high road (and do so ourselves).
Ron Burgandy February 23, 2012 at 09:28 PM
Has the economy improved since Barack Obama became the president of the United States? Of course not. Despite what you may be hearing in the mainstream media, the truth is that when you compare the U.S. economy on the day that Barack Obama was inaugurated to the U.S. economy today, there is really no comparison. The unemployment crisis is worse than it was then, home values have fallen, the cost of health insurance is up, the cost of gas is way up, the number of Americans living in poverty has soared and the size of our national debt has absolutely exploded. Anyone that believes that things are better than they were when Barack Obama was elected is simply being delusional. Yes, things have stabilized somewhat and our economy is not in free fall mode at this point. But don’t be fooled. This bubble of false hope will be short-lived. The problems we are seeing develop in Europe will erupt into another full-fledged global financial crisis and economic conditions in the United States will get even worse. When that happens, what possible ” economic solutions” will Barack Obama have for us? We never even came close to recovering from the last great financial crisis, and now something potentially even worse is staring us in the face. This is not a great time to have a total lack of leadership in Washington.
Ron Burgandy February 23, 2012 at 09:29 PM
The following are 18 statistics that prove that the economy has not improved since Barack Obama became the president of the United States…. #1 Today there are 88 million working age Americans that are not employed and that are not looking for employment. That is an all-time record high. #2 When Barack Obama was elected, the percentage of unemployed Americans that had been out of work for more than 52 weeks was less than 15%. Today, it is above 30%. #3 There are 1.2 million fewer jobs in America today than there were when Barack Obama was inaugurated. #4 When Barack Obama first took office, the number of “long-term unemployed workers” in the United States was approximately 2.6 million. Today, that number is sitting at 5.6 million. #5 The average duration of unemployment in the United States is hovering close to an all-time record high.
Ron Burgandy February 23, 2012 at 09:29 PM
#6 During the Obama administration, worker health insurance costs have risen by 23 percent. #7 Since Barack Obama has been president, the average price of a gallon of gasoline in the United States has increased by 90 percent. #8 Since Barack Obama has been president, home values in the United States have declined by another 13 percent. #9 Under Barack Obama, new home sales in the U.S. set a brand new all-time record low in 2009, they set a brand new all-time record low again in 2010, and they set a brand new all-time record low once again during 2011. #10 Since Barack Obama took office, the number of Americans living in poverty has risen by more than 6 million. #11 Since Barack Obama entered the White House, the number of Americans on food stamps has increased from 32 million to 46 million. #12 The amount of money that the federal government gives directly to Americans has increased by 32 percent since Barack Obama entered the White House. #13 According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the percentage of Americans living in “extreme poverty” is now sitting at an all-time high. #14 When Barack Obama first took office, an ounce of gold was going for about $850. Today an ounce of gold costs more than $1700 an ounce.
Ron Burgandy February 23, 2012 at 09:30 PM
#15 Since Barack Obama became president, the size of the U.S. national debt has increased by 44 percent. #16 During Barack Obama’s first two years in office, the U.S. government added more to the U.S. national debt than the first 100 U.S. Congresses combined. #17 During the Obama administration, the U.S. government has accumulated more debt than it did from the time that George Washington took office to the time that Bill Clinton took office. #18 The U.S. national debt has been increasing by an average of more than 4 billion dollars per day since the beginning of the Obama administration. Oh, but Barack Obama is promising that things will be much better very soon. Barack Obama is pledging that 2 million more jobs will be added to the economy in 2012.
Patrick Shannon February 23, 2012 at 09:58 PM
You got a whole lot of nonsense here, Ron. Some of your numbers are just wrong (did gasoline really cost almost half of what it costs today three years ago?; has Obama really added more to the deficit than Bush did?) and some are irrelevant (do you really think that housing prices should have increased or even stayed the same after coming off a bubble?). I get that you don't like Obama and there are reasons not to. But do you really think that the numbers would look radically different if McCain had won? Really?
Paul Bryant February 23, 2012 at 10:18 PM
On top of that, your credibility, what little there was, comes crashing down when a simple Google search reveals that every word of your last three posts exists on so many other sites, it could have only been plagiarized... https://www.google.com/#hl=en&output=search&sclient=psy-ab&q=Today+there+are+88+million+working+age+Americans+that+are+not+employed+and+that+are+not+looking+for+employment.+That+is+an+all-time+record+high.&pbx=1&oq=Today+there+are+88+million+working+age+Americans+that+are+not+employed+and+that+are+not+looking+for+employment.+That+is+an+all-time+record+high.&aq=f&aqi=&aql=&gs_sm=3&gs_upl=697l697l0l1445l1l0l0l0l0l0l0l0ll0l0&bav=on.2,or.r_gc.r_pw.r_qf.,cf.osb&fp=190bb7d462e58a69&biw=1338&bih=912
jaskie1505 February 23, 2012 at 10:49 PM
Paul, which person are you referring to regarding the plagiarism.
Paul Bryant February 23, 2012 at 10:57 PM
Isn't it obvious? Follow the Google link above.
gregoir February 23, 2012 at 11:18 PM
Actually, Patrick Shannon - gasoline did cost about half of what it does now when Obama took office. And yes, Obama has added much more to the deficit than Bush did. It's easy enough to verify those numbers an any number of non-partisan websites. Things have been so bad for so long under this administration it's hard to even remember what prosperity feels like.
Patrick Shannon February 23, 2012 at 11:35 PM
Gregoir, I'll take the gas number, since gas prices briefly plunged at about the time Obama took office from much higher than they are now the year before. As for the deficit, Bush contributed about $6 trillion and Obama about $3 trillion as far as I can see. Do you have different numbers?
Patrick Shannon February 23, 2012 at 11:36 PM
Paul Bryant, I wouldn't mind the plagiarism if the writer checked the numbers out and put the numbers in some kind of context. It would also be interesting to hear what he thinks should have been done instead.
gregoir February 23, 2012 at 11:44 PM
Here's an article from NPR - http://www.npr.org/2011/01/25/133211508/the-weekly-standard-obama-vs-bush-on-debt
Patrick Shannon February 24, 2012 at 01:46 AM
Gregoir, I think your article bears out my numbers. One thing we should remember is that Obama had to do stimulus spending; Bush didn't (until the end, but still after he ran up a massive deficit, which you will remember reversed the course charted by Clinton.) There are many who think that Obama (and Bush) should have let the banks fail. If they had everyone with a bank account would have lost their savings and deposits.
John J February 24, 2012 at 02:37 AM
gregoir, Interesting NPR article. Using the same numbers, I find: National Debt increase under Bush, 84%; increase (so far) under Obama, 32%!! National Debt when Bush took office, $5.768 trillion; when Bush left office $10.626 trillion….an 84% increase Current National Debt under Obama, $14.071 trillion….a 32% increase. Obama could add another $5.0 trillion and still not increase the National Debt by the same percent that Bush did. [No, I am certainly not advocating this as a goal.] What’s more relevant the $ increase or the % increase? We could debate that one ‘til the cows come home. But suffice it to say that in business, the % increase is more often the preferred measure (IMHO as a Corporate Controller) Food for thought
Gregoir February 24, 2012 at 06:07 AM
John, you do realize that 4.8 trillion dollar increase (or 84% if you prefer) under Bush was over 8 years (600 billion per year - or 10.5% annually). Obama had only been in office 735 days (as of the date of the article) and had increased the National Debt by 3.4 trillion (1.72 trillion per year - or 16% annually if you prefer)
John J February 24, 2012 at 11:05 AM
gregoir, I read the article. You are just repeating that author's spin. The annual rate of increase in the National Debt varied widely from year to year over Bush's eight years - less in the beginning and much more in the latter half - a definite rising trend. Obama certainly started off big, but IF his plan works (?) we should see a decreasing year over year rate of increase in the National Debt. IF he gets his eight years will he have increased the National Debt by a greater % than Bush? Only time will tell. [And, frankly as an American and a Vet, I hope he can do it. I want our country to succeed and get out of this ditch that we fell into in 2007/2008. I am sick and tired of the righties constantly trying to tear the government and the country down just to get re-elected.] The author of the article compares the average annual $ increase of Bush's eight years with Obama's first three. Why didn't he compare the average annual percent increase in the National Debt for Bush's last three fiscal years (2007,2008,2009 - as the author correctly points out - the FY 2009 budget belongs to Bush)? Duh, because approaching the numbers from that Point of View wouldn't have supported his bias.
Gregoir February 24, 2012 at 01:09 PM
We can definitely agree on one thing, John - we both want the United States to succeed. I'm skeptical that we can spend our way back to prosperity, though. As for "righties" wanting to tear down the government to get elected - that's not a right vs. left thing. The incumbent is always going to tell you how great things are going and the opponent will always tell you we're on a collision course with disaster. Maybe I'm getting more cynical in my old age - but both parties in Washington are so beholden to special interest groups that the deficit will continue to grow as they funnel money to their respective owners. I mean Romney vs. Obama? That's like asking if you want to die by firing squad or hanging.

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