Somewhere along the line, in the crazy world of democratic politics, there arose this rather delusional idea that government was inherently dysfunctional and corrupt and that the only way to fix these malignancies was to elect people to high public office that have no experience in politics or public service. The idea was that someone in ‘the system’ must obviously be part of the problem (aka “The Swamp”), therefore only voting for an “outsider” became the panacea for all of the governments’ ills.
It’s kind of like saying that the entire medical profession is steeped in dysfunction and corruption, so the only thing that makes sense is to hire, say, the landscaper to perform your emergency gallbladder surgery. I mean, one uses a scalpel and the other uses pruning shears… close enough? What could possibly go wrong?
Well, America is starting to find out why competence and experience matter in government. For example, just look at Trump’s chaotic and impotent response to the coronavirus crisis. It would only be laughable if people weren’t dying or the virus spreading like wildfire. Trump truly has no idea what to do and it’s painfully obvious. “I’m not concerned at all”, he bloviates. Trump is terrified at what the pandemic is doing to global markets and supply chains, so he thinks that downplaying or ignoring the global crisis will make it somehow disappear. As the stock market plummets and shortages of virus testing supplies become apparent, Trump responds, “No, we’ve done a great job with it.”
Or, as they say in the South, “Hold my beer, watch this…”
In Alabama, we’ve seen this phenomenon with the likes of State Auditor Jim Ziegler who seems to worry more about making headline news for his ridiculous comments than doing the job for which he was elected. It must have been downright euphoric for Ziegler when he got his thirty seconds of national attention for making disparaging remarks regarding U.S. Senator Krysten Sinema’s attire in a Facebook post. Such righteous indignation and courage! All in a day’s work for an Alabama Republican state auditor, right?
Of course, the latest Don Quixote “outsider” would be an ex-Auburn football coach and Republican Senate hopeful, Tommy Tuberville. Tuberville’s entire campaign is built on the idea of being an “outsider” that can fix Washington and his bizarre, unrepentant, and pathologically zealous love of Trump. The Uber-Conservative Tuberville has even said that he believes Trump was delivered to us by God. Of course, it may have slipped his mind that God once delivered us plagues of locusts, famine, and one very memorable flood, as well.
Regardless, the point is that Tuberville is now in a GOP primary run-off with former U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, even though Tuberville has no substantive platform or solid policy ideas. The main talking point on his campaign website is that he has no experience in government or politics whatsoever, which is a huge selling point to many extremist conservative Republicans. Republicans eat this stuff up because President Reagan once said, “The nine most terrifying words in the English language are: I’m from the Government, and I’m here to help. ” Well, Reagan made his tongue-in-cheek point, but he probably didn’t think it was going to lead to buffoons, like the Trumps and the Tuberville’s of the world, seeking elected government office.
“Outsiders” aren’t going to save our democracy. Voters will when they begin to hold public officials accountable for incompetence and malfeasance. It might also behoove voters to spend a little more time actually learning about the issues instead of blindly voting along partisan lines as they root for their sports team. “Outsiders” won’t make our government-run better, but more people participating in elections, running for office, and caring about civic issues would certainly start to turn things around.
It’s time to stop voting for clueless, self-dealing, braggadocious “Outsiders” and, instead, vote for people who are competent, ethical, and have a solid resume in public service. We’ve seen the damage that “Outsiders” like Trump can wreak on government norms and institutions. It’s time to vote for what matters: ethics, experience, and competence.