Monday, June 18, 2012

Shallow pool

By Bill Kraus

The candidates’ lot is not a happy one.

Put yourself in the role of someone considering running for political office or trying to recruit someone of substance to do so.

For openers, any candidate must be told that a substantial amount of time and effort will have to be devoted to raising the money needed to finance these evermore expensive campaigns. The parties that used to do this--and that, in the process, insulated candidates from the quid pro quos that often accompany the money--disappeared in the wake of the Watergate reforms.

Campaigning itself is no kiss for Christmas either; plant gates, grabbing hands of people heading to work half-asleep and attentive or heading home tired and inattentive; doing doors; if you’re important enough, drawing the bilious scorn of the talk radio “entertainers” who are in the business of selling ad time.

There’s no telling what your opponent and those who support your opponent are going to say publicly about you, your forebears, your life, but it isn’t going to be pleasant.

Does this sound like self abuse amounting to masochism?

Is it any wonder that the candidate's occupational disease is paranoia? Justified paranoia. These people really do have enemies.

And if you win, you will be faced with an agenda full of close calls and uncertainty. Politicians typically make more difficult decisions in a single legislative session than most people make in a lifetime. These decisions, what’s more, can make ingrates or enemies of even those who voted for you.

Why would anyone do this? Because it’s an honorable trade which comes with enough power to leave a footprint and maybe even a page in the history books.

This, unhappily, is not enough justification for as many people as it once was, and the leadership elite that once raised the money and shepherded the campaigns is long gone. They outsourced. They send checks and keep their distance. They don’t want to be associated with a trade where the practitioners are heavily engaged in demeaning their adversaries and themselves.

The sad thing is that as the incentives for doing that difficult work have diminished the need for quality candidates has never been greater.

There is no hope of amelioration until and unless the voters themselves close the hatchet factory that politics has spawned with its ad hominem campaigns and slashing, simplistic advertising.

Pogo continues to be right. We have found the enemy and it is us.

We elected those representatives who we are giving a 'D'. We make it beyond daunting to attract the kind of representatives who we might give an 'A' or 'B'.

When we reward intelligence, ideas, civility, open mindedness, we will get what we say we want. Not before. I’m waiting.

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Bill Kraus is the Co-Chair of Common Cause in Wisconsin's State Governing Board

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