I’ve been wondering for a few years whether our politicians are America’s best and brightest and whether they need to be. We can all agree that (for the most part) our politicians’ resumes have not changed. With W. it seemed nepotism and connections mattered most whereas Obama has renewed an idea, or myth, that anyone can be President. I suppose it’s not actually a myth but it sure feels like one. Anyway, this piece isn’t about how anyone can be President. It’s more about who wants to be President. I’ve often held that the young men (and more recently women) who are best suited for the Presidency have been turning to the business, international and medical industries. Interestingly enough, we’re finally at the point where women are participating and succeeding in politics yet have more reasons than ever to be scared away too.
Unfortunately, I don’t have a research staff or volunteer political science interns to locate the metrics needed and retrieve the data needed to understand this problem better. However, the media scrutiny, personal transparency and fundraising necessary to compete in modern day politics are driving otherwise motivated politicians into more dynamic and lucrative roles. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that the skills needed to be a great Representative/Senator/Governor/President are not necessarily those required by a great campaigner/fundraiser/speech-giver.
Maybe I’m overstating the core skills and motivations to be in politics but I think as technology has advanced so has American innovation, business and profiteering. Google is the new Senate. Amazon is the new House of Representatives. Wall Street investment bankers wield power over companies and make far more money than a politician could dream of making. Granted, I doubt investment bankers would be leaving Goldman Sachs to run for Congress if my theory was bulletproof, however I still believe there is a different set of incentives to run for office today. Certainly the landscape has changed when running for office requires more time, money and risk in exchange for scrutiny, frustration and marginal (or no) change. But the belief is still there, in the hearts of many men and women (including President Obama) that politics is the frontlines of social change and societal improvement. Is that a naïve, ideological belief? Or can our politicians model our best qualities and spark solutions to America’s biggest problems? I know it seems like our politicians often typify our worst qualities and grind solutions into policy dust, but is that their fault or ours?
I ask because I also fault technology for a significant change in the political landscape. As technology developed, the American people’s expectations at work, at home and in politics dramatically changed. Just as cops and district attorneys complain that CSI has ruined jury expectations forever, our access to information, solutions and satisfaction has ruined our political expectations. Culturally, we’ve expanded the marketplace for ideas and given a plethora of opinions a platform in the Internet. Personally, we’ve increased the availability of answers and provided a virtual solution to almost everything. Economically, there are more ways to monetize our businesses, hobbies and desires. It only follows that we’d have much higher expectations politically.
Jokes around Washington (especially in the federal contracting community) imply government is slow to change and last to modernize. And we’ve been slow to apply new technologies and the corporate culture those technologies have created to our government. Clearly the Obama administration has had a better opportunity to employ new social technologies and involve more Americans in their government. This administration is still packed with Ivy Leaguers- no surprise there and that’s not the point. The new culture is one of openness, collaboration and results. Data drives the decisions and resumes have been replaced by results.
It’s more about what you’ve done than where you’ve studied. That’s why it’s not as much about getting more Ivy League valedictorians into government but getting fresh, new ideas into a position of influence. We’ll likely never fully avoid nepotism (and it stands to reason it’s not entirely bad) but our generation has the ability to transfer a new culture into how we approach our government. We need to look to tangible solutions aimed at saving money and driving efficiency. Technology drives dramatic change and big innovations which can replace old incentives and refocus Government’s purpose.