Something I’ve come to recognize more and more, and by default, emphasize more and more when speaking to various groups is this: we should throw out 95% of what we hear from candidates campaigning for some government position.
That seems a bit harsh, I know, but I’m actually being kind… I didn’t say 100%. 😉
It’s almost all fluff…or what I’ve started to call “political junk food”.
Point One: Real-World Context
When someone’s interviewing for a job, how do they usually act and what do they say? They’re putting on their best self and they’re working to convince an employer that they are the best candidate for a specific role. How do they do this? They lay out specific skills and expertise that they bring to this position.
They don’t lay out all the skills and expertise they possess generally, just those skills and expertise that will directly impact their ability to do their potential specific job. In other words, they don’t just feed their potential employer junk food, surface information, or, in terms of college papers, “filler” info. They give them relevant substance.
It’s simple. Someone interviewing to be an engineer would be wasting the potential employers’ time if she spent her whole interview talking about her family life, her religious beliefs, her skills in the kitchen, her expertise in history or any other litany of unrelated skills and knowledge. Does this mean that these things don’t matter? Of course not. But do they matter in relation to this specific job? No.
What if the person doing the interview shared similar religious beliefs, liked the person’s family and also enjoyed cooking? Well, this could make for a congenial work relationship but we’d all say the interviewer was ineffective, naive and foolish if she were to hire the candidate based off of these attributes rather than the more important skills and expertise related to the actual job description.
What if the person most qualified for the position didn’t possess all the aforementioned hobbies and preferences? More to the point, what if she did but never mentioned them in the interview because those skills weren’t relevant? What if the skills this qualified candidate highlighted were only those necessary to do the engineering job better than any other candidate? An effective interviewer would not be distracted by all the other information and would inevitably hire the person who not only possessed the greatest skill for the job but also knew what the job would require of them and what it would not require of them. The interviewer is not and should not be interested in the extraneous, irrelevant or surface level information (junk food).
Something to remember as we discuss political candidates and their “job interviews”.
Point Two: Do Candidates Know What Their Job Will Be?
It’s critical when listening to a political candidate’s junk food speech, to identify the junk food, eliminate the junk food and assess if the candidate actually knows what they’re getting into. Candidates are always going to be telling us what they think we want to hear rather than what we should hear based off of their job descriptions.
(Key point being, what we want to hear. We want the fast food politics. No substance, usually no truth or relevance to the candidates potential job description, just give us enough emotionally triggering information to satisfy our hunger but no more than that. Too much substance gets boring and requires more work than we’re willing to give.)
For instance, candidates from both parties know that one issue people want fixed is education. So, federal candidates will brag about how they’re going to fix the education system. Yet, according to the Constitution, education is not a federal power. So, they’re either lying, ignorant, or fighting for more power.
(But do we care to know if they’re lying, ignorant or want more power? Do we care to know if they’re just trying to itch our ears by talking about an issue they know will emotionally trigger us regardless of whether or not it’s relevant to their job description? Or do we just want education “fixed”? Who has the time to understand the Constitutionality surrounding which level of government is responsible for whatever we think needs fixing?)
The same goes for every issue, particularly when it come to federal candidates. Federal candidates will talk about the economy, healthcare, education, marriage, abortion, religion, their families, changing the world, climate change, crime, and a litany of other “issues” about which the public (their employers) are clamoring to hear.
But, as is the case in every single one of these issues, NONE of them are federally enumerated powers within the federal government’s job description. It’s akin to a candidate for an engineering job bragging about how he’s going to change the entire company, hire and fire people, and invest in more property, when his actual position does not give him the power to do any of these things. The interviewer would likely be appalled—power hungry much?
Local elections are also important. Do those running for office locally know what their jobs are, where their powers start and stop?
If all the candidates do know the powers they would have, then they’re just playing us for fools by bragging about issue they won’t have power over… or they hope they can take power over. But, they also could just be ignorant, in which case, their eligibility for the position is still highly suspect. Both important traits to recognize when interviewing political candidates.
Point Three: Substance?
Here’s the real kicker. This is where I want to drive home this “fast food” analogy. What is political junk food? It’s critical that we, as government’s employers, grab ahold of what it is and why we like it— especially, in the last few days before primaries and last few months before mid-term elections. We’re going to hear a lot of political candidates talk and we better know the difference between political junk food and healthy substantial “food”. Then we better demand that they stop feeding us junk food.
How many times do you hear candidates talk about everything but the position for which they’re running? I went to a candidate forum recently and it seemed like the only thing every candidate talked about during their initial introductions was their families, faith, education, previous jobs and the like. In fact, I’ve noticed many candidates seem to want to focus on their personal life as a distraction from actual substance because, likely, many of them would be unprepared to adequately discuss substance.
So, what do I mean by substance?
Here’s an example. Someone is running for a state level position–let’s say, state house. He knows that education is a popular issue in his state. So, he always says he wants to “fix” education.
Ok, that’s all well and good, but anyone can pick up on an issue people are frustrated about, proclaim to the people that they’re going to fix it and hope to be elected simply because of this: they tugged on our emotions with a trigger issue and we followed.
(See, we love that political junk food. It feels better, tastes better and hey…it’s cheaper too. It requires way less of us. Actually knowing the Constitution, the job descriptions of the candidates, and some details about the issues is like eating healthy and working out: in the end, it’s more rewarding and better for us but so much work now. “I can still survive off of junk food, so why not? I don’t see any immediate damaging effects… and if I do eventually have a heart attack, at least I enjoyed myself before. Who cares about my kids, grandkids etc.”)
Since education is a state level issue, how could we, as government’s employers, tackle the broad “I’m going to fix education” junk food statement?
What is substance, healthy food, in this scenario?
Well, let’s think about it. If something needs to be fixed, the assumption is, it must be broken. So, what does this candidate think is specifically broken? Why do they think it’s broken? What caused the brokenness? You can’t successfully mend something broken if you don’t know why it broke in the first place, and what broke it.
Theoretically, this gets deep, because the assumption that education is broken is built on another assumption: namely, the assumption that there is a correct or unbroken method of education…which leads to another question. What does “unbroken” or “whole” education look like? What is the point, the goal of education? What is education? Is it merely teaching children basic information, facts, math, history, science etc? It is teaching them how to think critically for themselves? Is it teaching them life skills? Is it teaching them beliefs and ideologies? Is it teaching them civics and the basics of government?
When we say “our schools are failing!”, what do we mean? That are kids aren’t being taught how to read and write or that they’re being taught an agenda with which we disagree, or both? Further, who’s job is a child’s education? The state? The teacher? The school? The authors of the curriculum? The school board? The parent?
If something’s broken, there has to be a specific person or persons who aren’t living up to the “job” expected of them. If we can identify what education should look like when “whole”, how then do we get education to that point–specifically? Who’s responsible for doing so…? Further, who decides what “whole” education looks like and why them?
So, yes, when someone arbitrarily says, “I’m going to fix education!” and little else, they’ve just fed us political junk food. Tickle our ears with an emotional claim to fix something we feel strongly about without giving us any real substance.
I inwardly groan every time I hear these types of statements because there’s such a swath of unanswered assumptions in these simple statements that I can’t get on board with it. And this goes for everything our candidates say. They always throw out big, assumption-laden statements, hoping we won’t press any further and will simply drool at the emotions the statements evoke. Substance starts by acknowledging some of the assumptions, or at least attempting to address or answer them.
What if, instead of saying big broad general statements, our candidates actually gave us substance and owned their inability to “fix everything”. What if this hypothetical candidate said, “I know education is within my Constitutional jurisdiction as a potential member of the state house and I know that the illiteracy rate in our state has been increasing yearly etc etc. I don’t have an answer to every problem, but I’m going to bring in the best minds in this field to figure out a way to help improve the literacy rates of our children. I’m also looking at ways to send these decisions down to local governments and parents because I don’t believe the state government has or even should have all the answers”. This is less sexy, less emotional and dramatic, but at least it possesses a mite of substance.
That’s just it though, isn’t it? Maybe candidates aren’t informed enough to say all this, but why would they be when all they need to do is give us the cheap junk food “I’m gonna fix this!” and we’re satisfied? In fact, they know fast food politics is what we want. We wouldn’t like an answer with as much substance at the one above…
See, the problem really is us. When people get mad at how well McDonalds is doing because its food is so unhealthy, we lay the blame at the feet of McDonalds as if it’s their fault everyone wants to eat their kind of food.
Friends, they’re only supplying the demand.
Our candidates are only serving us what we demand and unfortunately it’s killing us. We have to first recognize we’re always demanding emotional junk food from our candidates, and that it’s killing us, before we can start dealing with whether or not all they are capable of giving us is junk food. We’ll never know our candidate’s capabilities if all we demand is junk food. When we start demanding substance, we’ll start seeing which candidates actually have substance and then we’ll start realizing which candidates actually offer us substance we like, want and support.
Just imagine … what kind of change would our nation would experience if we all stopped demanding political junk food…?
The Liberty Belle