Why the Best and Brightest Won’t Run

Why won’t our best & brightest run for office? Why do we get duds as candidates?

It’s gotten so that few people in their right mind step up to run for office. Why?

Here are five reasons why good people won’t run:

  1. 1.   Media attacks and irresponsibility: the media slams any attempt to change the laws listed below, because they have selfish motives. We don’t need any more “gotcha” playing by the media, exemplified by the reprehensible reporting of Jose Lambiet at the Post, or Frank Cerabino’s attacks that destroy reputations in order to get a chuckle. If a politician is a true public servant and not a careerist, it’s wrong for the media to make them attack targets. Career journalists rarely agree with me about this, but there is no doubt that one reason for the decline of newspapers is attack journalism, and relentless goldfish bowl treatment to elected officials’ private lives.
  1. 2.   Sunshine laws: The media thirsts to know every discussion between every elected official, so they can report it and opine their 2¢. This is the media mindset, but it causes more problems in government than it solves. Government works by compromise between competing interests. Elected officials need to talk with each other privately to explore ways to solve governance problems. Politicians cannot solve certain problems when the media pushes for laws that make public every utterance during negotiations, and scalds politicians who compromise on one issue to assure passage of another. Compromises are best worked out through negotiation, without the glare of publicity. Our representatives can’t solve some problems if they are forced into public posturing. Hiring, firing, legal positions, give-and-take, and solutions that consider the interests of all stakeholders can sometimes only get done out of the sunshine.
  1. 3.   Honest Services law: The problem with this law is its vague and inadequate definition about which actions by an elected official are covered under the law.  The law is unclear. Politicians have a right to know precisely which actions they take may land them in the dungeon.
  1. 4.   Campaign Finance laws make monetary contributions to candidates illegal, based on government’s definition of “contribution”. It’s dangerous to criminalize politics in this way. The purpose of these laws is to banish large contributions if they might evoke corruption. But giving money to candidates is a form of protected Constitutional free speech. An example of how these laws go awry is the criminal prosecution of John Edwards, who’s not a felon, he’s just a jerk.
  1. 5.   Financial Disclosure law: most people capable of governing have made successes of themselves in life, which often includes financial success. Why must they be forced to reveal their private financial matters to the world, which includes extorters, kidnappers and moochers? They’d rather not run if they must make this sacrifice.

The print and broadcast media have assisted in creating a culture in which honest and competent people are rarely lionized for their integrity. The media doesn’t care how people become famous, so long as they are celebrities. Rascals and idiots get more attention than people of integrity and ethics. The media heaps heavy attention on people who are moral failures, and full of ego and larceny. The media’s own lack of morality, and chase for revenues, hinders them from promoting the rise and success of people with character. The politician/citizen with political courage and commitment, practicing fiscal responsibility and fighting for society’s tomorrows (rather than his own scrambling for votes today), is considered too boring to celebrate.


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John R. Smith


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