New election motto: No experience needed

by | Dec 28, 2010 | Comment, Detroit Free Press | 0 comments

You wouldn’t hire a plumber who never saw a pipe. Or use a doctor whose only qualification was that he was “sick of doctors.”

Yet here we are, on the cusp of Election Day, and by all reports, we are about to elect numerous people who have little or no political experience. In many cases, their lack of experience is their most compelling asset. They hate the status quo. So make them the new status quo!

The question now becomes the one you’d ask that novice doctor as he hovered over you with a scalpel:

“Should we be scared?”

Well, yes and no. Here’s the problem. This nation was forged by men who had little or no political experience. Our forefathers. They are heroes. And a certain percentage of our country – including the much ballyhooed tea party – wants to replicate those forefathers in 2010.

The problem is … it’s 2010.

We don’t have a John Adams or George Washington running. No candidate just broke free from British rule. Sure, the Declaration of Independence folks saw things purely and cleanly. But not because they didn’t have years of politics behind them. They didn’t have years of politics behind them because America didn’t have years of politics behind it.

But by the time we forged the Constitution, most of the framers were from the Continental Congress, the rest in colonial or state government.

In other words, they didn’t just go out, pick a few field workers, and say, “OK, you guys create the country.”

The game of politics

Today, we hate politicians. Especially long-term ones. That’s the national zeitgeist. (This is silly by the way. There are good and bad politicians as there are good and bad everything else.) But lawmakers who have been around for a while are angrily viewed as old and bad.

In fairness, some are pretty dusty. Many lawmakers have been there 20 or 30 years. Quite a few have spent half their adult lives in office. For the first century of this country, people really did step out of private life, give a term or two of “public service,” then return to their old life.

But it hasn’t been that way for some time. And not only is there a huge difference between Thomas Jefferson and the New York guy from the Rent Is Too Damn High party, but the issues that lawmakers face today are vastly dissimilar from the 1700s.

Our founders dealt with liberty, independence and property. They did not deal with Wall Street regulation, No Child Left Behind policies, gay marriage, airline safety, illegal immigration or nuclear weapons.

Putting someone into office today is asking them to be adept on such complex issues.

Is no background in politics really the best training?

The trouble with labels

Maybe it can be. Maybe bright people can study up and learn together. But I worry that a bunch of wet-eared rookies will be forced to work with the long-toothed veterans. And how will they mix?

More often than not, newcomers are sucked under by the system. They quickly realize they need money to stay in office. They need alliances for support. They learn to vote for a distasteful bill to get a vote for a good one. They see their new fresh ideas exiled to committee, where they die. They’re told “play ball or go home.”

And many will.

So it’s not just the people, it’s the system. Washington and Jefferson didn’t have banking lobbies or oil lobbies to be beholden to. They didn’t need TV time to make themselves known.

There’s a reason that in 1994, more than half of the Republicans elected to Congress had no experience. Yet here we are again, 16 years later, with loads of Republican candidates being touted for – guess what? – having no experience. What happened to the other guys?

Dissatisfaction is nothing new. “Throw the bums out” has been screamed since early last century.

But if we’ve learned anything, it’s that a lawmaker isn’t great simply because he’s never voted for anything, any more than a brand-new football player is great because he’s never fumbled before.

The truth is, finding a great candidate takes hard work, study, listening to debates, asking questions. Most of us would rather just read the label. New. Old. Only when it’s too late do we find out what’s inside the bottle.

Contact MITCH ALBOM: 313-223-4581 or Catch “The Mitch Albom Show” 5-7 p.m. weekdays on WJR-AM (760).


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Mitch Albom writes about running an orphanage in impoverished Port-au-Prince, Haiti, his kids, their hardships, laughs and challenges, and the life lessons he’s learned there every day.

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