Several days ago, Susan and I were visiting with friends from other states and, of course, the conversation drifted toward politics. What became increasingly apparent is how little we really knew about our presidential candidates, particularly Governors. How odd it is that the single most important position in the United States and likely the world can go to someone who receives less scrutiny of past job performance than a school bus driver.
We first queried about Mike Huckabee, the former Governor Arkansas and none of us knew anything about his record other than his massive weight loss that brought him to the national stage and a more recent flare-up about a parole release that backfired
As it turned out, Huckabee came across well with his Will Rogers humor and folksy manner. Now he has his own TV show and is a regular commentator. But, we still know little of his Governorship and his Presidential candidacy continues with minimum scrutiny.
The same blankness appeared when discussing Mitt Romney of Massachusetts. There is the knowledge related to his health care program and his leadership of the World Olympics. Having been in the financial world I was aware of his performance at Bain and Company and would submit that his record there was stellar.
These are just two examples. Add Tim Pawlenty, Mitch Daniels and Sarah Palin to the list and the results are the same. Their records as Governor may be exemplary or downright mediocre. But the reality is that we, the people, do not know. And the reason is relatively simple: the politics of competition is far more appealing and gains ratings as opposed to a meaningful examination of performance and substance. But it is also a truly sad reflection on the national media. What journalistic standard applauds ignorance?
In this kind of environment, officer holders can leap onto the national stage and be permitted to define their past as they wish it were tailoring it to fit any audience that is part of the party base. There is an appalling indifference to quality performance and an almost zealous adherence to the politics of politics.
How many of these want-to-be’s have actually balanced their budgets without massive utilization of debt, “fee increases” and accounting shifts? How many truly were forces of creative change that the overall quality of life and managed toward a defined goal that reflected the best in our society?
When I came into office in 1991, Governors all over the nation were confronted with large deficits but due to leadership by Republicans like Tommy Thompson of Wisconsin and Democrats such as Roy Romer of Colorado, the focus shifted to reform. States were seen as “laboratories of democracy” and they served as the incubators of welfare reform, health care innovation, long-term financial management, and educational choice. The action was at the state level not in Washington. Of equal importance was the fact that there was little finger pointing largely due to the fact that a crisis was seen as an opportunity for reform.
If we, as a nation, want to excel it is imperative that accomplishment and substance be our goal. That is how a merit-based system works. All the pizzazz in the world is as meaningless as a burp. When truths and integrity are diminished in importance, Democracy is weakened. We should remember that internal mediocrity is as much a threat as external terrorism.