Where did all the Statesmen go?

This upcoming presidential election has left a lot to be desired from our two major candidates.  It seems that most people I have discussed the election with are not pleased with either candidate.  Almost like being forced to choose between cauliflower and brussel sprouts.  This election in my opinion is a product of a wider problem in American politics these days, namely that, there are no more political figures in this country that lead and inspire.  I think it has been this way for the last twenty-five years or so.  I believe too that there are a number of reasons for this phenomenon, meaning it is not just dumb luck that we are faced with this predicament as a country.  As an optimistic I am hopeful that this will change soon.  If history is to be my guide this period of seemingly zero skilled political leadership is not unprecedented.

Between the presidencies of Ulysses S. Grant and Theodore Roosevelt, maybe William McKinley during the second half of the 19th century there was not a whole lot of major leadership coming out of our nation’s executive office.  Most people cannot name a president during this period and if they can, they certainly cannot discuss said president’s achievements or accomplishments. There is good reason for this.  These presidents did not do a whole lot of note.  I take that back Grover Cleveland during this time served two nonconsecutive terms, becoming our nation’s 22nd and 24th president.  But really outside of this fun presidential fact this period in U.S. political history is marked as a period of great political malaise where a level of mediocrity descended over the presidential seal.  The effects of this poor leadership coming out of the White House resulted in a shift of power and leadership from out of Washington to New York City- to the Morgans, Rockefellers, and Carnegies of America.  All of which ushered in a period in American history that became known as the Gilded Age, when big business dominated all aspects of American economic and political life.

How did the presidency once again regain its shine and luster?  Well, back then, slowly but surely, the role of government began to change.  Government caught up to the rise of industry and big business which had expanded exponentially and unchecked since the Civil War.  Government began busting up trusts, placing and establishing safety regulations in factories, buildings, apartments, housing. . .government formed commissions to try and end bossism and corruption, it established agencies to deal with the myriad infrastructure problems that arose as a result of rapid urbanization.  Children began to go to school instead of working in factories and workers. . . workers slowly but surely began to gain rights- to strike, to unionize, to collectively bargain.  It did not happen overnight and there are those that feel that the expansion of government back then opened a “Pandora’s Box” regarding constant government expansion and regulation that still can be felt today.  Yet, in my opinion, a lot of this government expansion at the time was right, good and necessary.  The engine for this governmental role change was pushed by a rising educated and properly networked middle-class created as a result of an overall increased standard of living for many people and American prosperity in general.  Civil reform rarely occurs among the lower classes for obvious reasons.  The lower class is too concerned about survival and putting food on the table.

So where does this leave us today?  Does the role of government need to change once again? Surely it can’t expand anymore, can it? The answer today is not in bigger government but in a smarter one- that matches the mentality and mindset of 21st century America.  Two areas in which government could be smarter and better which would consequently lead to better leadership is in overhauling the election process and updating apportionment/redistricting.  The primaries were originally intended to provide greater voice to the people a hundred years ago, but today the two major parties control the primaries and the election process in the states.  People vote in primaries, but it is the national parties that decide and usually coronate candidates in national elections. The same goes for statewide elections where party officials establish candidates at the state level and at both levels all the election rules favor the two major parties.  Furthermore, especially at the state level but even at the national level, if a party candidate does not run unopposed, there is almost a ninety percent certainty that any person that half-heartedly follows politics could figure out which party would win that race.  That is because congressional districts notoriously favor an incumbent.  Las Vegas would never dream of making a line with such odds!  Until true open primaries exist where the two major political parties are just two entities in a larger state-run democratic process and districts are updated routinely and fairly the same ole politicians will be getting elected each cycle.  It is too difficult for normal Americans to run for office.  The deck is already stacked in favor of our dominant two parties.

In this 24/7 news media cycle the two party system in my opinion has become a dinosaur. It’s too easy for the media to call politicians out on the carpet for not being “principled” to their party stances.  Therefore politicians see no incentive to compromise, therefore dig in on their respective sides like a bad divorce.  The mantra boils down to the following: A dead Republican is better than a live Democrat and vice versa.  One could have the best idea ever but if you are from across the aisle it cannot work.  Ralph Waldo Emerson once said “Foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of simple minds. . .” I think that adage fits perfectly for Washington today.  It’s good to be consistent, but not when it is foolish.  The American public is left in the middle wondering where did common sense and leadership go in Washington?  Who will be our next great Statesman?



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