Let me apologize in advance for the long wind-up on this one, but I want to justify being a bit of a glib asshole about our political system here.
I have a friend who says he knows Nate Silver from back in the day. According to him (I’m sure Nate Silver would deny this and I’m sure I’m getting details wrong too), Silver was playing a lot of online poker and making money at it, then the other players got good so he quit to do something where the people around him would be dumber, so he could make more of an impact. Sports statistics was a natural choice. Then all these smart people (Voros McCracken, etc.) started doing sports stats too, so he looked for a new backwater, and found political statistics, where he dominated and revolutionized many things.
I have some other friends who are in business that involves managing large groups of peoples. I’ve asked them what the most important thing is and they say it’s hiring capable people. I ask if there’s anything else and they say, yes, making sure the most capable people get promoted as high as possible. And that’s it, there’s really nothing else you can do, they say. It’s obvious stuff, they admit, but they say it’s harder to do than I would think and that it’s not done well in a lot of cases.
The politicos on tv don’t impress me. Ed Rollins and James Carville, don’t seem like idiots but they also don’t seem like people who would rise to the top of very many fields. Actual elected officials are more of a mixed bag, with more outright morons (James Inhofe, Sarah Palin) and also more genuinely impressive people (Bill Clinton, Obama). If I had to break it down by party, I’d say that the Republican political consultants seem slightly sharper than their Democratic counterparts (especially among the older ones) while the Democratic elected officials seem a good deal sharper than their Republican counterparts.
But all in all, it’s just not an impressive group of people.
The same is true of the pundits on tv. Other than Paul Krugman (who of course didn’t come from a journalistic background) and maybe Ron Brownstein, they just don’t come across as people’s whose opinions I’d be interested in on any topic. They don’t know anything about anything, they don’t speak especially well, and their insights are all either stale conventional wisdom or something I read on a blog months ago.
Maybe it’s time to admit that the people at the top of our political/media heap just aren’t very bright. Politics and media are both areas where there isn’t a lot of good accreditation and review of people (the way there is to some extent in law or medicine or academia), nor is there much opportunity for constructive entrepreneurship (you have to be at some large organization to get anywhere) nor is there anyway to get to the top by just beating other people, as there might be in something like sports (I realize there are elections to win, but they are mostly rigged via gerrymandering etc.). Most of it doesn’t pay very well at the beginning, with all these unpaid internships and so on.
It seems like a system that would discourage ambitious young people from joining and then promote the people who do join in a capricious way.
Maybe it’s pointless to speculate this, but I do think that it’s part of why our national political system is just a disaster: it’s run by losers. Don’t get me wrong, these people could be corrupt and self-dealing and all that, but that doesn’t mean they’re not also incompetent.