Friday, September 18, 2015

Why Don't We Have Better Politicians?

Tyler Cowen:
The two participants who have done the best relating to voters, through the media, are the two former CEOs, Donald Trump and Carly Fiorina. Overall that is true even if you think Trump had a subpar performance this debate.

A priori, you would think that being a professional politician selects exactly for people who can do well in a televised national debate. Yet, from this limited number of data points, it is the CEOs who have the relevant skills.

What should we infer about the relative filters for CEOs and politicians? . . .

Why don't actors and actresses, in either the literal or the operational sense, take over the upper tiers of the political sector?  . . . How about a smart talk-show host? 
This is something about contemporary politics that I have commented on before, apropos of the Senate reigns of Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell. Why are our leaders such lousy communicators? Watching Trump kill the rest of the field is downright embarrassing, and as Cowen says the only other candidate who has stood up to him effectively is Carly Fiorina. Why are great speakers like Obama, Reagan or Mario Cuomo so rare in our politics? Or even great gladhanders like Bill Clinton?

Obviously being a great speaker or having a winning  public persona is an advantage for an American politician, but it is far from the most important thing. What does matter, it seems to me, is convincing the other party insiders that you are absolutely on their side. You have to operate much more in back rooms and little private conferences and so on than in public. In those settings, what matters is fidelity to the cause; to have one position out of line, or cast one wrong vote, can sink the career of the best orator.

I also wonder about the kind of people who choose to get involved in American politics as they currently exist. If you were a great speaker and a great talk-show guest, why would you choose to get involved in politics, rather than business or television? What does public office offer to balance out the vastly lower salaries and so on? True ideologues excepted, I suspect the answer is "not very much."

1 comment:

G. Verloren said...

I find that power appeals to those who crave it, and typically the people who crave power are the least suited to wield it. Contrariwise, it seems the people best suited to lead often have the least interest in doing so.

Actual leadership is hard work, unpleasant, and often unrewarding. So to want to become a leader, you need to either be an absolutely stellar individual who is so generous and passionate about making the world a better place that you're willing to put up with all the unpleasantness of the job for the sake of the positive results you can produce... or you need to be someone for whom power alone is worth nearly any cost.

It stands to reason that there are a lot more people of the latter kind than of the former in the world.