Might the skill sets necessary for getting elected be incompatible with the skill sets necessary for actually governing? Now that our politicians are in constant campaign mode–which requires pie-in-the-sky promises and unrealistic rhetoric–does that, by its very nature, prevent them from solving actual problems?
Such scary thoughts are inspired by economics columnist Robert J. Samuelson. He chastizes both liberals (for running up huge deficits with no concern for the consequences) and conservatives (for insisting on tax cuts even in the face of those huge deficits). Then he cuts to the problem:
Governing is about making choices. By contrast, the la-la politics of both left and right evade choices and substitute for them pleasing fictional visions. . . .
The common denominator is a triumph of electioneering over governing. Every campaign is an exercise in make-believe. All the good ideas and good people lie on one side. All the “special interests,” barbarians and dangerous ideas lie on the other. There’s no room for the real world’s messy ambiguities, discomforting contradictions and unpopular choices. But to govern successfully, leaders must confront precisely those ambiguities, contradictions and choices.
The make-believe of campaigns increasingly shapes the process of governing. Whether this reflects cable TV and the Internet — which reward the harsh hostility of extreme partisanship — or the precarious balance between the two parties or something else is hard to say. But the disconnect between policy and the real world is harmful. Proposals tend to be constructed more for their public relations effects than for their capacity to solve actual problems.
The result is a paradox. This electioneering style of governing strives to bolster politicians' popularity. But it does the opposite. Because partisan rhetoric creates exaggerated expectations of what government can do, people across the ideological spectrum are routinely disillusioned. Because actual problems fester — and people see that — public trust of political leaders erodes.
Something else to bring down our republic: If there is an intrinsic disconnect between the political process in a democracy and the necessities of governing, our system of government is doomed. And yet, in our history, there have been statesmen who were effective in both realms. Do you think these are two incompatible vocations?