Whiting column: Character and ability are rare factors in election results
Character and ability are seldom a factor in our national elections.
No offices should be more about character and ability, but elections today aren’t won by convincing or demonstrating a candidate possesses these characteristics. Arguably, it may have been the 1980s since a presidential election occurred in which we felt comfortable with these aspects of the candidates.
Elections are won by developing a voter’s personal stake in a candidate, their feeling beholden to a political party or dependent upon the status quo to such an extent the voter not only doesn’t want change, they fear change.
When a voter receives money or benefits from a policy advocated by a specific political party or candidate, they are logically reluctant to vote for any candidate seeking to change that money flow or policy.
Over time, we have become more dependent upon the government instead of taking command of our own lives. Sadly, what has developed is a situation in which character, good judgment and valid leadership experience are not the primary factors in a voter’s decisions but what is best for me today rather than what is better for the country overall.
“Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.” The JFK inaugural quote has been reversed. People vote for the candidate and party promising them the most individual benefits. Contrary to his own statement, JFK’s Democratic party has prioritized free benefits to specific electorate groups that are willing to become more dependent, don’t mind being more controlled and don’t understand economics sufficiently to realize the long-term danger.
As a result, it is virtually possible to win every election regardless of the abilities of the candidate. The number of voters receiving benefit and possessing personal stake in the status quo dominates the total electorate. To illustrate, in 2020:
- 24 million federal, state and county employees
- 6.6 million public school teachers and staff
- 3.9 million university employees
- 65.6 million received Social Security benefits
- 61.2 million received Medicare
- 10.1 million received unemployment benefits
- 82.7 million received Medicaid
- 44 million received food stamps
These 298.1 million people have a personal stake in the status quo. Overlap between groups lowers this total, but overlap serves to only accentuate the likelihood they will not vote for any candidate advocating change.
Obviously, some in the above groups will look beyond themselves, the short term, understand economics and not vote for the status quo, but with only 239 million eligible voters, the difficulty in winning an election is self-evident.
This also doesn’t consider the millions who benefit from a specific policy, whether it be immigration, affirmative action, income tax regulation, corporate law or other special interest policy. They benefit from maintenance of the status quo and are reluctant to vote for change.
Any candidate or party seeking to reduce taxes, reduce government payroll, hold public employees accountable, close tax loopholes, end special interest policies, reward employment and entrepreneurial opportunity has a steep uphill battle to win an election.
An individual’s negative economic situation isn’t eliminated by being dependent upon governmental subsidy but by government providing them a route and motivation to take command of their own life. Continual benefit becomes an expectation and only develops entitlement. The problem isn’t solved but pushed down the road to re-emerge around the next corner because folks have fallen behind in training and experience.
Most don’t resent a short-term handout to someone receiving a bad break, an unexpected lost job, medical issue or accident. We all know that “there but by the grace of God go I.” The trouble is those who don’t look for work, who sabotage any required interview, refuse an available job, fake disability, abuse charity, fail to utilize educational opportunity, don’t strive to acquire a marketable skill but instead feel entitled to continually “receive.”
Being a public employee is a difficult and thankless job. We appreciate the dedication shown by most. It’s those who show up for work as late as possible, leave as early as possible, do the bare minimum, push back against accountability, are more concerned about getting a raise than doing their job better who make us frustrated with the status quo. We all have forgotten that we are known by what we do for a living not what benefits we consume.
What can we do to put character and ability back in our elections?
It seems difficult to have a direct effect nationally, but encouraging those of character to run for local office is a start. We must model character for our children, friends and colleagues. It requires us to show more character in what we do every day, so possessing character isn’t an exception but commonplace.
Character requires not only agreeing with but tangibly following JFK’s request. Personal responsibility requires not accepting lack of character in all aspects of our lives, careers, associations and especially political candidates.
In the absence of true leadership, we look for it in the pretenders. We attach ourselves to those who pay attention to us even if their motivation is self-serving. These are the “shadow” leaders; those occupying the shadows. As long as the sun shines, they appear successful in the shadows, but when things get tough, get cloudy and the shadows disappear, so does their leadership.
Bryan Whiting feels most of our issues are best solved by personal responsibility and an understanding of non-partisan economics rather than government intervention. Comments and column suggestions to: email@example.com.
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