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America's Romance with Political Mediocrity

By       Message David Muskera     Permalink
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View Ratings | Rate It Headlined to H3 11/11/08

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We Americans are an odd bunch.  We have cockeyed standards and expectations of things.....oftentimes with absolutely no rationale whatsoever.

Case in point:  We expect our hair dressers to be trained and licensed. Do we not? Our plumbers and electricians to be certified (by someone).  Our teachers to be educated and have degrees, our doctors to have graduated at the top of their medical school class.  If we're going to have a surgery, we want the best, the brightest and the most experienced physician we can afford.  We even prefer a mechanic to be "factory trained" before being allowed to look under the hoods of our gas guzzling SUVs.  

But, at least until the most recent National elections (and maybe still even within it) we have no standards for our politicians other than they be "like us".  You know, a Joe-the-plumber type....the guy or gal next door, soccer moms and dads.....or like that special somebody drinking a beer at the end of the bar.  In the recent Presidential election, a significant and therefore scary percentage of US voters were wooed into near hysteria in favor of a vice presidential candidate with little or no national experience.  A newly minted political celebrity who looked good on camera but who proved to be gleefully and proudly uniformed about issues that would be of central importance had they been elected to office.  Millions were willing to put this candidate a heartbeat away from a potential president, age 72 with a recurrent history of deadly melanoma and indications of early Alzheimer's. 

Twice within the past eight years, voters have been convinced to elect--and then grant a second term to--a President who was probably already brain-damaged by age 40 from previous years spent overusing alcohol and drugs.  A man who could not speak more than a few simple sentences without bungling well known phrases.  and forgetting common words.  A man whose only "personnel test" for appointing friends and back slappers to high government and judicial positions has been a loyalty oath or a business payback of some sort owed him or someone in "the family." Remember – "You're doing a great job Brownie" from hurricane Katrina days?


Yet twice we Americans put this down-at-the-end-of-the-bar politician in an office of highest power.  His eight-year term has predictably led to the near dismantling of our economy and has squandered America's positive capital abroad.  His bull-headed, ill-informed decisions have left thousands of young Americans dead and maimed in a war of revenge and money grabbing that has also cost the lives of hundreds of thousands of innocent civilian bystanders--women and children included.  You only had to watch a few clips of video filmed in other countries the night Obama was elected to see the joy and relief displayed around the world now that the Bush years are about to end.   


So what is wrong with the American electorate?  Are we any different in these political matters than others around the globe?  Why are we so enamored in recent years of mediocrity in our politicians?  Why do we find it comforting that someone we vote for is "just like us"?  Why does the mere mention of soccer moms and Joe-six-packs send some voters into gushing, fawning hysteria?


I thought if Obama lost his bid for the Presidency, it would not be because he was black.  But because he was too "smart."  We Americans don't seem to like smart. We make jokes about people being intelligent and "pinned heads."  Like we were still in junior high school taunting the class bookworm.  We denigrate them as too "elitist", too liberal-radical, or too Ivy League. We poke fun at them for using too many three syllable words. Remember, these qualities are only acceptable in the man or woman about to use a surgeon's scalpel on us--or give us a licensed massage.  We only want pointy headed nerds to design our cars and bridges. Smart engineers are only of use to prevent tall buildings from falling in on top of us.  We only seem to believe in "science" when it doesn't conflict with our beliefs about magic and the age of the universe.  But then again, maybe Obama isn't so smart after all.  After eight years of Bush, I can't imagine why anybody with brains would want the job. 


Together with many other Americans--and even many in the rest of the world--I can only hope that Obama will know how to begin the process of repairing this country. We can only hope that the "loyal" opposition will allow him to focus on the job at hand and not bedevil his presidency with stupid attempts to impeach him over eating an un-American breakfast cereal.  His assuming the job now is somewhat akin to taking over as Captain of the Titanic after it already hit the iceberg.  We must pray he's smart enough to prevent the ship from going down this time.  Let Bush go back to his ranch and clear brush.....that's where he should have stayed in the first place had not voters wanted a good ole boy President who you could drink a beer with--and not some elitist smartass (like Gore or Kerry) from some uppity spoiled brat university.

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Imagine what kind of a country we would now have (assuming it made it this far), and what kind of a Constitution would have resulted in Philadelphia in 1776 had it been authored by a group of regulars from down at the pub.  Thank God the men involved were our brightest and best, no matter what side they were on, in the Federalist Papers debates.  I for one, don't want my president, my senators nor my congresspersons (state or national) to be "like me."  Yes, I want them smart enough and experienced enough to "understand me" and the problems that are of concern to me and people like me...but for God's sake not "like me."


Let me suggest something radical.  Something I know is impractical and would never work in the real world.  It's workable only in a perfect universe.  One in which human greed, lying and other forms of dishonesty have been banished.  Let me suggest that in order to vote, the potential voter must pass a written test.  The test should cover fundamentals such as demonstrating they understand the basic workings of the US Government--that they understand and appreciate the separation of powers and the concept of checks and balances inherent in the three branches of government: Executive, Legislative and Judicial.  A voter should show at least a 10th grade understanding of world geography and basic economics. Voters who watch more than two hours of broadcast television per day during election season would have their registration cards revoked.  I could go on with other "requirements" but I think you get the idea. 


Yes, I know this would not work.  It's only a fantasy.  Just seems really strange to me that a dog groomer must pass a test and be licensed in order to cut butt hair on a dog but any barely literate joe-sixpack can counteract and wipe out the vote of someone much better informed.  Someone whose decision is not jerked around by 30 seconds of TV candidate ad distortion or formulated on the basis of some angry and lying talking-radio-head. 


Maybe in my fantasy world, all who are allowed to vote currently would be able to vote under a new system....Depending on your test score, you would be awarded vote points.  Let's say between one and ten.  Poor scores translate to five and under - better scores earn five and above - up to ten.  A sort of weighted vote in which more informed and intelligent voters carry more impact.  Yes, I know, its un-American even to have such a fantasy.  


So, do I have to surrender my Obama/Biden bumper sticker and my American flag lapel pen?  Well then, come and get'em!   To quote a famous US President ... "Bring it on!"  But be careful, thanks to Heston and company, I still have a gun in the house.  Someplace. 

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Following 35 or so years of clinical, teaching and administrative practice as a psychologist, I am now semi-retired, or at least - trying to be. In addition to some years in private practice, I also taught undergraduate psychology courses full-time (more...)

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