OMT One Man's Trash...from Norman Leahy

Wednesday, October 18, 2006 :::

A Different Perspective on Mediocrity

Via Instapundit comes this Chicago Boyz post on congressional mediocrity. The author says that it's been an issue since the founding generation left the scene, but that the Republic has flourished anyway:

Having mediocre politicians is a consequence of our having a superb private economy. We are, actually, fortunate that we have some relatively competent and public-spirited people in public life at all.

This is not a problem with a solution, but a permanent, structural condition.

Nor is it one that needs to concern us much.

There's probably something to this, but I'm not entirely sold on the general concept. The author points to a chapter of Viscount James Bryce's "American Commonwealth" in support of his/her conclusion. While Bryce's book was written in 1888, and some of its conclusions are very dated, there are two points which seem to speak more or less directly to current conditions. First:

The roughness of politics has, no doubt, some influence on the view which wealthy Americans take of a public career, but these are just the Americans who think that European politics are worked, to use the common phrase, "with kid gloves," and they are not the class most inclined anyhow to come to the front for the service of the nation. Without denying that there is recklessness in the American press, and a want of refinement in politics generally, I do not believe that these phenomena have anything like the importance which European visitors are taught, and willingly learn, to attribute to them. Far more weight is to be laid upon the difficulties which the organization of the party system, to be described in the following chapters, throws in the way of men who seek to enter public life. There is, as we shall see, much that is disagreeable, much that is even humiliating, in the initial stages of a political career, and doubtless many a pilgrim turns back after a short experience of this Slough of Despond.

And this:

If the path to Congress and the state legislatures and the higher municipal offices were cleared of the stumbling blocks and dirt heaps which now encumber it, cunningly placed there by the professional politicians, a great change would soon pass upon the composition of legislative bodies, and a new spirit be felt in the management of state and municipal as well as of national affairs.

I think these are matters that weigh heavily on those who consider running for office. Candidacies are never easy. Pressing the flesh, raising money, gulping down stomach-twisting meals at odd hours and in locations near and far, plus the impediments Bryce notes that -- even over a century ago -- incumbents place in the way of challengers can make even the most public spirited person walk away.

Is it possible for a mediocrity to overcome these obstacles? Of course. They have countless times and they will continue to do so. On balance, however, enough people of substance and energy do so as well. This prevents us from getting stuck in a political ditch.

How long this good fortune will last, though, is an open question.

::: posted by Norman Leahy at 10/18/2006 0 comments


"You know what the fellow said: In Italy for 30 years under the Borgias they had warfare, terror, murder and bloodshed, but they also produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and the Renaissance. In Switzerland they had brotherly love -- they had 500 years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock." -- Orson Welles, The Third Man

"The graveyards are full of indespensable men" -- Charles de Gaulle

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