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Friday, May 15, 2015

Mob Rule: Rethinking The Problem With Our Elected Officials

A lot of people make a good living asking for money for their nonprofits to use supposedly fighting for a better and more ethical culture in our nation's and state capitals.

Blah blah blah.

Everyone seems to blame our elected officials, our political class, for the dysfunction. People "don't work together," everything is "partisan," and so on.

Blah blah blah.

Everyone is a crook, say some.

Blah blah blah.

But over the years, as the voices decrying these conditions seem to get louder (in some quarters), guess what? Popular participation in politics -- that is, through actually voting -- is on the decline. 

This brings me to the issue of the level of voting. This is a favorite target of the so-called, self-styled good-government groups, which exist -- make no mistake about this -- to provide a good living for their founders.

What if the problem in "politics" is the same as in "popular culture," where success is defined by sheer numbers and the ability to "sell" or "pander" to the greatest number of people sharing the lowest-common-denominator?

Unlike every other economic, academic or athletic endeavor where merit is the preeminent if not the sole criterion for success, and where achievement is recognized, the political world rewards the precise opposite.

In the political world where everyone has one vote and one voice, regardless -- or in some cases, in spite of -- their achievement, actual achievement is punished because achievers, by their nature, are a numerical minority and politics rewards the popularity contest which must cater to the lowest common denominator.

(Quick note: Read The Federalist Papers. Early American elections restricted the right to vote. Just consider whether there has been a correlation between greater enfranchisement and a debasement of the political and campaign culture.)

The "race to the bottom" in the political world is not a problem of the "political culture" or even of "ethics." It may simply be structural, a function of the fact that the electoral system rewards the basest, lowest qualifications for participation, namely, the ability to fog up a mirror, and levels the playing field to reduce those with the most "skin in the game" to numerical irrelevance.

So why would you be surprised when political campaigns and elected officials pander to this lowest-common-denominator (LCD), when the electoral structure -- and their very survival in politics -- require giving greater attention to this LCD?

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