CAMPAIGNING VERSUS GOVERNING by ELLIN CURLEY

Like many other Americans, I have been in shock and very, very depressed since the election of Donald Trump as President. I have been thinking about how this unthinkable thing could have happened. I have a small theory that maybe explains a tiny piece of the cluster fuck that is our government for the next four years. It’s not entirely new or original, but I feel it deserves consideration and attention.

campaign-poster-2016In our system, the qualities it takes to win a presidential election are different from the qualities it takes to govern as President. I could argue that what you need for one job is virtually antithetical to what you need for the other. For example, to be a successful candidate you have to be good at making stirring speeches in front of large audiences. To inspire those large crowds and excite the media, you need an outgoing personality, an out-sized ego, plus a charismatic speaking style. You must be larger than life.

But, to govern and be an effective executive, none of these traits or skills — while occasionally handy — are critical or even necessary. Instead, you need to be good at dealing with individuals and small groups. You need to convince, cajole and compromise to get things done. Keeping your ego in check is a prerequisite for working well with others. Flamboyance is a minus, not a plus.

dwight-david-eisenhower-quote-i-do-not-believe-that-any-politicalAs a candidate, you have to strip complex, nuanced ideas and situations down to a few catchy slogans or sentences. You need to be prolific in distilling ‘sound bytes’ from complicated issues. Those ‘sound bytes’ are what will represent you to the general public via the media. The big picture is what matters. Details and subtleties be damned.

As President, you have to master a myriad of detail on every issue. You need to weigh the pros and cons of competing interests and groups, then come up with viable policies. Next, you have to ‘sell’ these policies to friends and foes, up close and personal. Complexity and contradictions are your meat and potatoes.

The person best suited to win the presidency in America may be the least suited to governing well. Trump was an effective candidate but there’s no indication he can govern. At all. Hillary Clinton was a lousy candidate but I believe would have been a great President. Is there a resolution for this dichotomy?

I’d argue that the English parliamentary system can teach us something. The English have the Royal Family as their “national celebrities” and tabloid fodder. Their Members of Parliament are supposed to be boring, nerdy, policy wonks. No one expects their MPs or even the Prime Minister to be a dazzling public speaker or TV personality. (Justin Trudeau of Canada is a rare exception – he has it all!)

I’m not advocating a monarchy for America. But maybe we could have the President and Vice Presidential candidates run as a real team. The Vice Presidential candidate could be the crowd pleasing media star for the election cycles. The President could just be the back office guy who crunches the numbers and gets things done when its time to govern.

I’m not sure whether or not this system would work in practice, but it sure as Hell couldn’t be worse than what we have now!

23 thoughts on “CAMPAIGNING VERSUS GOVERNING by ELLIN CURLEY

  1. I wonder if we may be moving towards exactly this solution — Pence seems to be the rational voice as he articulates what Trump attempts to say. I also think that we allow way too much time for campaigns, which then allows for exaggertion of any crazy discussion.

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    • Too much time for campaigns is another very important issue. Because of the length of our campaigns, it takes huge amounts of money to run any campaign and this perverts the whole process. Good point.

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  2. England limits the campaign to 6 weeks. If we gave it 12, they would be forced to focus. By the end of this campaign, I felt like I’d been bludgeoned. I could barely remember any points anyone — even I — had made or what the issues (what issues?) were. I knew for whom I was voting and why, but I can actually understand how people, totally sick of the whole process, actually lost track of what, who, and why this endless campaign was going on. I still feel bruised.

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    • I think the major problem with endless campaigns is the amount of money it takes to campaign for 18 months! Anyone running has to sell their souls to get the money to make it through the process. And we wonder why there is so much corruption and ‘bought’ government officials!

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  3. Thoughtful piece, Ellin. You’ve nailed some good points.
    In a way, the Prez Race is like the beisbol season. There’s the monumentally long regular season. You do everything you can to reach the post season and lots of players are injured or burned out. The Post Season is the General Election race. The World Series: The final campaign days. Hottest team wins it all with the best strategy and a little luck.
    Ike’s thoughts were noble. Pre-expansion beisbol. Another time, another world.
    JFK was a game changer.
    Obama was Jackie Robinson.
    Orange Head — Ty Cobb wins it all!!
    In beisbol jargon, next year is 2020.
    Let’s sign up some good free agents!!

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  4. These words pretty much summed up what my best friend has been saying about the elections all along:

    In our system, the qualities it takes to win a presidential election are different from the qualities it takes to govern as President.

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    • It’s like auditioning a brain surgeon by making him fix your toilet. It doesn’t make any sense any more. The whole system has lost sight of the original goal – to find the best and most qualified people to run the government!

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      • I’m not sure our politics have ever really made sense. I’ve read a lot about the first couple of presidencies and it was pretty weird then, too. We never created any legislation for the political process. The constitution is all about law, but doesn’t actually say anything about campaigns, parties, processes, nomination or candidates. Oops.

        This means that ANY legislation we might put in place to control how political campaings are run and funded will be essentially virgin territory, legislatively speaking. As a nation, we have never addressed it. At all. I think both parties are scared to approach the issue. No matter what they say during a campaign, both parties are 100% invested in the current system, with all its glaring imperfections. If we change it, they have to change. And change is scary — the results unpredictable.

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        • Oh, I think we NEED the legislation. It’s obvious the parties aren’t going to regulate themselves. I just doubt that it will happen. That would require that all those members of the house and senate redesign the entire election process … and that would mean redesigning the parties themselves AND how they raise money. I don’t see that happening. They’ll talk about it and accuse each other of being the stumbling block, but neither party is really willing to change the way they do business. Ironically, this is the one thing that is truly bi-partisan. It figures, right?

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  5. It should take less than 6 months to pick out a candidate, nominate them, and then have the election. With our technology, we could probably build a better candidate in a lab and have ’em caught up on everything in that time (and we’d make sure all the parts were American bred, 35 and older so he/she/it would be qualified). Why it takes over a year for this horsehockey is beyond me, closer to two when it’s the presidential race. I just see it as we’re the “Ship of Fools” and everybody else knows it but us. There has to be a better way, because it’s a friggin’ popularity contest, and not at all accurate to determine how the person will perform the job once they’re in there. Awful.

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    • It wasn’t this long when I was growing up. A few months, done and done. Now, it seems they start campaigning as soon as someone is elected and it never stops. Ever. It’s permanent. We need some kind of laws. I just wonder if either party has the guts to actually try to reform the system. Somehow, I doubt it.

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  6. The other problem is the pervading concept that that the ideal candidate has to be an “outsider” with no ties to Washington or any political experience. “I know nothing about running the govt. so elect me!!” Would you hire a plumber to fix your toilet who has never even seen a pipe wrench? And because of this we have elected the most uninformed unqualified person ever to hold office. Makes no sense.

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    • Garry and I say that all the time. Outsiders have to hire insiders or they can’t get anything done. It’s incredibly naive — okay, stupid — to assume that people who haven’t a clue how laws actually get passed are going to accomplish anything. Oh, and lets have term limits too so anyone who actually does know anything has to leave. That’ll encourage the best and brightest to go into government service for sure! Everyone wants a low-paying dead-end job, don’t they? Terrific idea.

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