Campaigning vs. Governing

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.

via Robert J. Samuelson – Both parties fall prey to make-believe politics – washingtonpost.com.

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?

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • James T. Batchelor

    I am reminded of a remark in “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” by Douglas Adams. It has been a long time since I read the book, but the phrase goes something like this: “A person who gets elected to office should by no means be allowed to actually exercise that office.”

    In fact, it is up to the electorate. If they are fooled by the razzle dazzle instead of the substance, they will continue to elect people who cannot do the job. I believe someone else said something like this: “We get the government we deserve.”

  • James T. Batchelor

    I am reminded of a remark in “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” by Douglas Adams. It has been a long time since I read the book, but the phrase goes something like this: “A person who gets elected to office should by no means be allowed to actually exercise that office.”

    In fact, it is up to the electorate. If they are fooled by the razzle dazzle instead of the substance, they will continue to elect people who cannot do the job. I believe someone else said something like this: “We get the government we deserve.”

  • http://lutherama.blogspot.com Dr. Luther in 21st Century

    James, you beat me to it but here is the quote.
    “It is a well-known fact that those people who must want to rule people are, ipso facto, those least suited to do it… anyone who is capable of getting themselves made President should on no account be allowed to do the job. “

  • http://lutherama.blogspot.com Dr. Luther in 21st Century

    James, you beat me to it but here is the quote.
    “It is a well-known fact that those people who must want to rule people are, ipso facto, those least suited to do it… anyone who is capable of getting themselves made President should on no account be allowed to do the job. “

  • Jerry

    The ability to govern is really the ability of the leader to surround himself with those who are best able to execute policy that shares his vision. Poor government will result when the vision is unclear or when those executing it are incompetent. The political system works best when the people are in agreement with the vision. It’s really not the case of incompatible vocations–it’s the case of a single vocation of presenting a vision and finding those who can execute it. It’s up to the voters to decide if they share the vision and if they trust those who execute it.

    In the case of the previous president I believe the vision became unclear and the voters lost the necessary trust, and in the case of the current president, the vision was ignored by the voters until now.

  • Jerry

    The ability to govern is really the ability of the leader to surround himself with those who are best able to execute policy that shares his vision. Poor government will result when the vision is unclear or when those executing it are incompetent. The political system works best when the people are in agreement with the vision. It’s really not the case of incompatible vocations–it’s the case of a single vocation of presenting a vision and finding those who can execute it. It’s up to the voters to decide if they share the vision and if they trust those who execute it.

    In the case of the previous president I believe the vision became unclear and the voters lost the necessary trust, and in the case of the current president, the vision was ignored by the voters until now.

  • Adam

    Better to talk about this than about what Sen. J. Bunning is doing on the Senate floor right now. Filibusters are cute until they cost hundreds of thousands of unemployed their benefits.

  • Adam

    Better to talk about this than about what Sen. J. Bunning is doing on the Senate floor right now. Filibusters are cute until they cost hundreds of thousands of unemployed their benefits.

  • kerner

    Conservatives who hope that the premise of this article has exceptions should give some consideration to this:

    http://article.nationalreview.com/426286/the-anti-obama/mona-charen

    and this:

    http://www.realclearpolitics.com/2010/03/01/hoosiers_amp_health_savings_accounts_230214.html

    I realize that campaigning and governing in Indiana is not the same as doing both nation-wide. And Gov. Daniels may not be all I hope he may be. But he seems worth a look.

  • kerner

    Conservatives who hope that the premise of this article has exceptions should give some consideration to this:

    http://article.nationalreview.com/426286/the-anti-obama/mona-charen

    and this:

    http://www.realclearpolitics.com/2010/03/01/hoosiers_amp_health_savings_accounts_230214.html

    I realize that campaigning and governing in Indiana is not the same as doing both nation-wide. And Gov. Daniels may not be all I hope he may be. But he seems worth a look.

  • http://www.bikebubba.blogspot.com Bike Bubba

    Adam, when those unemployed haven’t paid unemployment insurance to correspond to those extra weeks that Obama wants, tell me why, exactly, we should be paying them?

    After all, isn’t the very root of the economic crisis we’re in the idea that we’re somehow entitled to have things without paying for them–mortgages for people who had no chance of paying them?

    Reality is, IMO, that James hits the nail on the head. An alert electorate would be keen to realize that certain candidates are all hat and no cattle. Unfortunately, we don’t have that right now.

  • http://www.bikebubba.blogspot.com Bike Bubba

    Adam, when those unemployed haven’t paid unemployment insurance to correspond to those extra weeks that Obama wants, tell me why, exactly, we should be paying them?

    After all, isn’t the very root of the economic crisis we’re in the idea that we’re somehow entitled to have things without paying for them–mortgages for people who had no chance of paying them?

    Reality is, IMO, that James hits the nail on the head. An alert electorate would be keen to realize that certain candidates are all hat and no cattle. Unfortunately, we don’t have that right now.

  • DonS

    Kerner @ 5: Mitch Daniels is a rising star as a potential 2012 presidential candidate.

    Adam @ 4: You have just given the perfect example of what is wrong with our politics. Whenever somebody even hints at trying to account for costs, other politicians, the media, and a million different special interest groups start complaining anecdotally about the harm that is being caused because of the reduced government largesse. The sob stories grow in intensity, eventually the politicians back down because of the pressure, and pretty soon you are looking at $14 trillion in debt plus $60 to 80 trillion in unfunded future liabilities. Do you realize that all Senator Bunning wants to do is make Congress follow its own Pay-Go rules, accounting for the increased spending on these benefits by reducing spending elsewhere in the budget? What is wrong with holding our government accountable for its reckless out-of-control spending? Who is going to pay the future bills for this profligacy (hint– most of them are not yet alive)?

    Adam, until you start proposing constructive solutions to these government budget problems, and the resultant harm to the very health of our economy, you are part of the problem.

  • DonS

    Kerner @ 5: Mitch Daniels is a rising star as a potential 2012 presidential candidate.

    Adam @ 4: You have just given the perfect example of what is wrong with our politics. Whenever somebody even hints at trying to account for costs, other politicians, the media, and a million different special interest groups start complaining anecdotally about the harm that is being caused because of the reduced government largesse. The sob stories grow in intensity, eventually the politicians back down because of the pressure, and pretty soon you are looking at $14 trillion in debt plus $60 to 80 trillion in unfunded future liabilities. Do you realize that all Senator Bunning wants to do is make Congress follow its own Pay-Go rules, accounting for the increased spending on these benefits by reducing spending elsewhere in the budget? What is wrong with holding our government accountable for its reckless out-of-control spending? Who is going to pay the future bills for this profligacy (hint– most of them are not yet alive)?

    Adam, until you start proposing constructive solutions to these government budget problems, and the resultant harm to the very health of our economy, you are part of the problem.

  • Adam

    DonS, Bike
    Your contempt for the disadvantaged is breathtaking.
    I don’t want to be standing next to you in a lightning storm, much less on judgment day.

  • Adam

    DonS, Bike
    Your contempt for the disadvantaged is breathtaking.
    I don’t want to be standing next to you in a lightning storm, much less on judgment day.

  • http://www.bikebubba.blogspot.com Bike Bubba

    Adam, suggest you take a look at 2 Thessalonians 3 before you tell Senator Bunning (or Don, or myself) that he’s wrong to stand against extending unemployment insurance past the 79 weeks that many states already grant. The Scripture clearly commands compassion for those who can not work, and a noisy stomach for those who can.

    Also, there is an ugly reality that one of the biggest barriers to finding work is a government that is sucking up all available capital with higher bills for unemployment insurance and so-called “stimuli.” If your employer has its working capital taken to extend unemployment benefits, that just might come out of your paycheck. It’s Bastiat’s “that which is not seen.”

  • http://www.bikebubba.blogspot.com Bike Bubba

    Adam, suggest you take a look at 2 Thessalonians 3 before you tell Senator Bunning (or Don, or myself) that he’s wrong to stand against extending unemployment insurance past the 79 weeks that many states already grant. The Scripture clearly commands compassion for those who can not work, and a noisy stomach for those who can.

    Also, there is an ugly reality that one of the biggest barriers to finding work is a government that is sucking up all available capital with higher bills for unemployment insurance and so-called “stimuli.” If your employer has its working capital taken to extend unemployment benefits, that just might come out of your paycheck. It’s Bastiat’s “that which is not seen.”

  • Peter Leavitt

    People get the government that they vote for and deserve. Any clear-headed voter ought to have known that Obama was a man of limited experience and less accomplishment. Shelby Steele and Thomas Sowell wrote incisively before the election of Obama’s leftist ideology and incompetence.

    We do have some men able at both campaigning and governing. Mitch Daniels, Paul Ryan, and Mitt Romney are three such examples.

    Robert Samuelson is a decent economic journalist. If this piece is an example, he is not such a hot pundit with his tendency to over- generalize.

  • Peter Leavitt

    People get the government that they vote for and deserve. Any clear-headed voter ought to have known that Obama was a man of limited experience and less accomplishment. Shelby Steele and Thomas Sowell wrote incisively before the election of Obama’s leftist ideology and incompetence.

    We do have some men able at both campaigning and governing. Mitch Daniels, Paul Ryan, and Mitt Romney are three such examples.

    Robert Samuelson is a decent economic journalist. If this piece is an example, he is not such a hot pundit with his tendency to over- generalize.

  • DonS

    Adam @ 8: I am confused by your theology. You appear to be saying that a Christian who does not believe in massive government borrowing sufficient to fully satisfy every perceived need by every person in the nation is doomed on Judgment Day. In other words, in your view, what Christ taught was that we need to plunder the public treasury and hand it out, without circumspection or consideration, to everyone who comes, hat in hand, and expresses a financial need. How do you square this view of theology with the biblical teachings of moderation and avoiding debt? Also, do you think any aspect of what Christ taught was directed to individual Christians, or was He really advocating a cradle-to-grave government welfare state?

  • DonS

    Adam @ 8: I am confused by your theology. You appear to be saying that a Christian who does not believe in massive government borrowing sufficient to fully satisfy every perceived need by every person in the nation is doomed on Judgment Day. In other words, in your view, what Christ taught was that we need to plunder the public treasury and hand it out, without circumspection or consideration, to everyone who comes, hat in hand, and expresses a financial need. How do you square this view of theology with the biblical teachings of moderation and avoiding debt? Also, do you think any aspect of what Christ taught was directed to individual Christians, or was He really advocating a cradle-to-grave government welfare state?

  • DonS

    Let me clarify the kind of action that Adam @ 8 thinks comprises “breathtaking” contempt for the disadvantaged, sufficient to result in eternal judgment:

    A motion in the Senate to enact, by unanimous consent, an extension of unemployment benefits about to run out, which declared an emergency and suspended Pay-Go rules, designed to ensure that any new spending does not add to the deficit through offsets in other federal spending. Jim Bunning objected to unanimous consent, meaning consent wasn’t unanimous. This is NOT a filibuster. The Senate could still enact legislation throught the ordinary channels. Bunning says his objection is based on the suspension of Pay-Go, because if this is an emergency, then everything is an emergency. If we are ever going to rein in spending, we have to start doing that. He further states that he wants the benefits to pass, and suggests using $10 billion of the $500 billion in unspent stimulus funds. The Democrats absolutely refuse this suggestion, and thus the benefits run out.

    Who is at fault here? Why did the Democrats refuse this reasonable request to start to put a damper on spending? Adam, are all of the Democratic senators (and a good many Republicans as well) going to stand before the Judgment Seat with Sen. Bunning, Bike, and myself because they didn’t reasonably compromise to get the bill passed by unanimous consent? Is this reasonable objection worthy of demonizing the poor guy on national media? You tell me.

    It is my view that this country is officially nuts.

  • DonS

    Let me clarify the kind of action that Adam @ 8 thinks comprises “breathtaking” contempt for the disadvantaged, sufficient to result in eternal judgment:

    A motion in the Senate to enact, by unanimous consent, an extension of unemployment benefits about to run out, which declared an emergency and suspended Pay-Go rules, designed to ensure that any new spending does not add to the deficit through offsets in other federal spending. Jim Bunning objected to unanimous consent, meaning consent wasn’t unanimous. This is NOT a filibuster. The Senate could still enact legislation throught the ordinary channels. Bunning says his objection is based on the suspension of Pay-Go, because if this is an emergency, then everything is an emergency. If we are ever going to rein in spending, we have to start doing that. He further states that he wants the benefits to pass, and suggests using $10 billion of the $500 billion in unspent stimulus funds. The Democrats absolutely refuse this suggestion, and thus the benefits run out.

    Who is at fault here? Why did the Democrats refuse this reasonable request to start to put a damper on spending? Adam, are all of the Democratic senators (and a good many Republicans as well) going to stand before the Judgment Seat with Sen. Bunning, Bike, and myself because they didn’t reasonably compromise to get the bill passed by unanimous consent? Is this reasonable objection worthy of demonizing the poor guy on national media? You tell me.

    It is my view that this country is officially nuts.

  • ptl

    If we as a people were a bit more self reliant and our states a bit more independent then our federal government could be quite a bit smaller and then, lo and behold, it wouldn’t be so hard to find decent people to manage that respectfully tiny thing. Were that we could get back to a country that is from the bottom up and not from the top down, with a government that works for us, and not the other way around, then perhaps all would be well. But alas am afraid we have strayed too far away and cannot find our way back home, not at least without much change. Consider a few wonderful quotes from Jefferson:

    “My reading of history convinces me that most bad government results from too much government.”

    “Our democracy will cease to exist when you take away from those willing to work and give to those who would not”

    (Milton Friedman said something similar about more people in the cart, than there are pulling the cart)

    “I predict future happiness for Americans if they can prevent the government from wasting the labors of the people under the pretense of taking them.”

    “When we get piled upon one another in large cities, as in Europe, we shall become as corrupt as Europe.”

    “I believe that banking institutions are more dangerous to our liberties than standing armies. If the American people ever allow private banks to control the issue of their currency, first by inflation, then be deflation, the banks and corporations that will grow up around the banks will deprive the people of all property until their children wake up homeless on the continent their fathers conquered…”

  • ptl

    If we as a people were a bit more self reliant and our states a bit more independent then our federal government could be quite a bit smaller and then, lo and behold, it wouldn’t be so hard to find decent people to manage that respectfully tiny thing. Were that we could get back to a country that is from the bottom up and not from the top down, with a government that works for us, and not the other way around, then perhaps all would be well. But alas am afraid we have strayed too far away and cannot find our way back home, not at least without much change. Consider a few wonderful quotes from Jefferson:

    “My reading of history convinces me that most bad government results from too much government.”

    “Our democracy will cease to exist when you take away from those willing to work and give to those who would not”

    (Milton Friedman said something similar about more people in the cart, than there are pulling the cart)

    “I predict future happiness for Americans if they can prevent the government from wasting the labors of the people under the pretense of taking them.”

    “When we get piled upon one another in large cities, as in Europe, we shall become as corrupt as Europe.”

    “I believe that banking institutions are more dangerous to our liberties than standing armies. If the American people ever allow private banks to control the issue of their currency, first by inflation, then be deflation, the banks and corporations that will grow up around the banks will deprive the people of all property until their children wake up homeless on the continent their fathers conquered…”

  • ptl

    oops! correction….

    “I predict future happiness for Americans if they can prevent the government from wasting the labor of the people under the pretense of taking care of them.”

    Thank you!

  • ptl

    oops! correction….

    “I predict future happiness for Americans if they can prevent the government from wasting the labor of the people under the pretense of taking care of them.”

    Thank you!

  • LAJ

    ptl

    Would that more of our founding fathers would be quoted more frequently as we have lost our way and they could help us find our way back. Thank you.

  • LAJ

    ptl

    Would that more of our founding fathers would be quoted more frequently as we have lost our way and they could help us find our way back. Thank you.

  • Peter Leavitt

    ptl, Jefferson was right that bad government is the result of too much government.

    He was, also, right that unregulated private banks that controlled the currency were a danger, something that was later largely rectified through a national bank; however, his general detestation of bankers reflected a narrow agrarian vision for the country that was properly defeated in good part due to the success of another founding father, Alexander Hamilton. Hamilton’s vision of America as a commercial and manufacturing nation, as well as an agricultural one, ultimately succeeded.

    Despite its manifest faults, America at present has probably the most efficient and creative financial system in the world. This is one of the reasons that we are among the most prosperous nations in the world.

    American finance is, however, presently vulnerable due to not a few Wall Street people who lack the strict ethical and moral values that are at the core of any credible system of finance. This problem stems in part from the decline in serious religion in our country. To paraphrase Chesterton, if you don’t believe in a moral cosmos, you are free to believe anything.

  • Peter Leavitt

    ptl, Jefferson was right that bad government is the result of too much government.

    He was, also, right that unregulated private banks that controlled the currency were a danger, something that was later largely rectified through a national bank; however, his general detestation of bankers reflected a narrow agrarian vision for the country that was properly defeated in good part due to the success of another founding father, Alexander Hamilton. Hamilton’s vision of America as a commercial and manufacturing nation, as well as an agricultural one, ultimately succeeded.

    Despite its manifest faults, America at present has probably the most efficient and creative financial system in the world. This is one of the reasons that we are among the most prosperous nations in the world.

    American finance is, however, presently vulnerable due to not a few Wall Street people who lack the strict ethical and moral values that are at the core of any credible system of finance. This problem stems in part from the decline in serious religion in our country. To paraphrase Chesterton, if you don’t believe in a moral cosmos, you are free to believe anything.


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