- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 9, 2008


The chattering classes are atwitter over the Iowa caucuses and yesterday’s New Hampshire primary.’Tis a pity. As a nation, we ought to be worried, indeed in despair, over the larger issues that face the country rather than how a relative handful of Americans cast their votes.

The truth is that the current primary system and calendar for choosing presidential candidates is an absurdity. Candidates collectively raise hundreds of millions of dollars, in the scheme of things not a lot of money, and waste huge amounts of time appealing to the tiniest slice of Americans for their votes in Iowa and New Hampshire.

Imagine if any candidate were able to use a portion of that time measured in hundreds or thousands of hours spent en route and on the campaign trail to think through policies instead of manufacturing sound bites and compile lists of the right people to execute them come Jan. 20, 2009 rather than cut political deals with too many interest groups that often place expediency over principle.

Is there a better way? A further truth is that our politics are badly broken. Instead of concentrating on governance, politicians are obsessed with winning elections, not what to do afterwards. And, in this process, a very successful tactic is to attack opponents as much as is humanly possible.

President Bush inadvertently set this tone in the early days of the wrongly named war on terror by declaring, “you are either with us or against us.” That is the battle cry of Republicans and Democrats not just against the other but inside each party as well.

So, who governs? Whether or not you are for or against Mr. Bush, his administration and party have presided over a disastrous set of policies. But Congress, Republican or Democratic, has been just as bad. Republicans exercised zero oversight when in charge. Democrats foundered in passing legislation and specifically and irresponsibly embarked on a resolution over declaring the slaughter of Armenians more than 80 years ago a genocide, knowing full well the motion would precipitate a crisis with Turkey.

Further, it is depressing to hear each presidential candidate extol his or her virtues about why they would be best for the nation and are the most able, competent or visionary to lead. It too is all largely nonsense. Consider why.

First, simply because a new president takes office, crises do not take a holiday. Second, by a large majority, most past presidents were unprepared on day one. It took time to learn the job. Third, it takes longer and longer to man an administration so that the next president will be flying, if not solo, without a full crew for much of the first year.

Barely two months after Mr. Bush took office, a Chinese fighter jet collided with an American P-3 reconnaissance aircraft forcing it land on Hainan Island, precipitating a crisis. Were it not for the efforts of three non-politicians — former Gen. and Secretary of State Colin Powell; Ambassador to China and former Adm. Joe Prueher; and Commander in Chief Pacific Adm. Dennis Blair — who knows what might have happened. Five months later, September 11 hit.

Of the past five presidents, only one — George H.W. Bush — was clearly qualified to govern from day one. Jimmy Carter got off to a bad start and never recovered. In the first few years of Ronald Reagan’s administration, the president blundered badly and was close to impeachment over his Latin American intervention, let alone the Beirut bombing of 1983 that claimed the lives of 241 Marines. Bill Clinton’s first years, from health care to Somalia, were disastrous. One can reserve judgment over the current president’s record. But it ain’t good.

Finally, we have to realize that it takes a great deal of time to man the ranks of any administration. The clearance and congressional approval processes are nightmarish. For people of means and many interests, legal fees that each must pay in this process can run into the seven figures. For someone worth a few hundred million dollars that is not a financial disaster. But why should they assume such a burden to take on public office and undergo such scrutiny in which allegation, rumor and innuendo rather than fact can ruin one’s reputation?

The solution is clear. The public should be outraged by our political process. Government has become destructive. As Jefferson eloquently wrote in the Declaration of Independence, when government fails, “it is the right of the people to alter or abolish it and establish new government.”

America is not going to have a second revolution. But it is high time that the public should finally demand of its elected representatives in Washington a government that is willing and able to govern. That is the challenge of 2009.

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