Needed: A Competency Test for Elected Officials

christine odonnellWhere do they find these people?  I’m talking about those crazy-talking Tea Party types, ultra-conservative Republicans posing as legitimate lawmakers and politicians, some of them even passing themselves off as senators, members of Congress and governors.

Now, before you say anything, I am not naïve about politics.  I know that politics has always attracted some of the best, but all too frequently it has attracted some of the worst that society has to offer.  But this past election season, it seems as if the bottom fell out on how bad it can get—how truly pathetic and hopelessly unqualified candidates for political office are allowed to be.  Tea party candidates demonstrated their extremist and racist views, their ignorance of basic constitutional principles, and their lack of preparation for primetime.

And most of all, they showed that they are wholly-owned pawns of wealthy interests.

Rand Paul, Rick Scott and Jan Brewer won.  Christine O’Donnell, Ken Buck and Sharron Angle lost, but they were still legitimate nominees of a major political party, so victory was at least within the realm of the possible for them.  Dumb as bricks, with no practical experience or knowledge of which to speak, is suddenly a virtue.  Some of them said they would criminalize abortion in the case of rape and incest, or protect the rights of private businesses to discriminate against black people.  Some have urged the use of Second Amendment remedies.  At least one candidate led a program to openly intimidate black voters.  And yet, a number of them found enough votes to take them to victory.  They told the constituents they would protect the interests of the rich, and yet they were able to garner enough votes from the poor dumb citizenry to win the election.  That’s something, isn’t it?

The bar of stupidity and intolerance is lowered every day, and yet someone will vote for these people.  In Oklahoma, a state senator authored a measure to amend the state constitution, prohibiting state courts from considering international law or Islamic Sharia law when reviewing cases.  The measure passed with 70 percent of the vote, and a federal judge overturned it, which shows that the federal government is necessary to protect us from the states.

The reelected governor of Texas, Rick Perry, longs for the old days, a hundred years ago—before the progressive movement and the New Deal, when there were no child labor laws, unemployment insurance, national income tax, consumer regulations or worker protections.  He even wanted Texas To secede from the Union, and likely put an innocent man to death, and still the citizenry of Texas rewarded Perry with a third term in office.

Whenever you find deplorable laws, there were deplorable people behind those laws, driven by greed and fanaticism, and lacking in character, empathy, scruples, and a concern for the common good. America needs some sort of competency exam, some kind of quality control process for their elected officials.  Where are the regulations?  I know, elections are supposed to take care of that.  Under normal circumstances, in a democracy with elected representatives, you should be able to count on an informed electorate to pick the best candidates based on the issues.  But this is America, and there are several problems with that notion.  Civic engagement is lacking, voter participation is low, and many who vote are low information voters.  Public education and the news media have failed them.  While democracy depends on an educated electorate, sadly too many American voters are ignorant and ill-informed.<

It does not help matters that the nation’s politics are driven by a system of legalized bribery, blown wide open by the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision.  In this pay-to-play land, with the best system money can buy, democracy goes to the highest bidder.  So, what is considered corruption in your run-of-the-mill, Third World banana republic is the law in America, protected by the First Amendment—because corporations are people, too.

David A. LoveGiven the dysfunction, the gridlock and the mean-spiritedness in our politics, it is no wonder that the best and brightest too often flock to other disciplines, leaving the barrel scrapers to fill the vacuum of political leadership.  And yet, someone somewhere out there will vote for them.

David A. Love

Reprinted with permission from the BlackCommentator.

Published by the LA Progressive on November 11, 2010
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About David A. Love

BlackCommentator.com Executive Editor, David A. Love, JD, is a lawyer and journalist based in Philadelphia, and a contributor to the Progressive Media Project, McClatchy-Tribune News Service, In These Times and Philadelphia Independent Media Center. He contributed to the book, States of Confinement: Policing, Detention, and Prisons (St. Martin's Press, 2000). Love is a former Amnesty International UK spokesperson, organized the first national police brutality conference as a staff member with the Center for Constitutional Rights, and served as a law clerk to two Black federal judges. His blog is davidalove.com.