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Richard Greener Headshot

Public Office in America: The Reign of Idiots

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It appears Ambrose Bierce was right. The evidence seems irrefutable. Haven't you ever asked -- why are there so many idiots in public office? And why so many more waiting in the wings like small children in restaurants, barely able to contain themselves, itchy and eager to replace the current lot at each and every new opportunity? Why name names? It's not really necessary, is it? You know who they are. No political party, religious or ideological camp, no single-issue crusade or wide-scope social cause has a monopoly on the jerks, simpletons, and just plain morons who end up in government at every level. Yes, you find them in plentiful supply among the nation's executive branches -- mayors, governors, all the way to the White House in Washington DC. But it goes much deeper than that. As Bierce put it, the "Idiot" has membership in a large and powerful tribe.

Mark Twain also had his say. "In the first place," Twain wrote, "God made idiots; that was for practice; then he made school boards." You think he was kidding? He wasn't. Have you ever been to a school board meeting? From those school boards, to city councils, from state legislatures to Congress -- there's not a dime's worth of difference between most of them. The men, and the women too. Like robots, they line-up. They may call themselves lawyers, doctors, car salesmen or cheerleaders. But they look, talk and act like idiots.

This dominant species of "public servant" can be and is found almost anywhere. Their training grounds, those locations where they are almost "farm raised" like salmon, chickens or pigs, go way back in time and culture. These people are the ones who were classroom and hallway monitors in third-grade. They were on student council in high school. They were the well known ass-kissers in college, always "friends" with professors, or "tight" with the dean. They were the hangers-on at the school President's parties. You probably spotted them when you were ten years old and so were they. No surprise at all these are the folks who ended up in elective office.

Once they reach adulthood it doesn't take them long to move into "subdivisions" and then slide onto the homeowners association boards. The same kids who at twelve started "clubs" in their garage -- and never forgot to collect "dues" from their members -- crept seamlessly into the ritual revenue streams generated by sending out "assessments" to their neighbors. And, for the particularly aggressive and lucky ones, they leaped at the chance to take the next step into electoral politics. Drawn like flies to you-know-what, the idiots become near orgasmic at the very idea they could tax everyone -- and then spend that money themselves.

As a result, our Congress is chock-full of them, the most virulent, most assertive, most successful, and most idiotic of this sort. In the House of Representatives once you see John Lewis of Atlanta, where can you go to find a second intelligent, morally upright Member? And you don't have to agree with Rep. Lewis' politics to understand the characterization or the question. You may find another, but you'll have to look hard. Real hard. Whatever you do, please don't waste your time walking over to the Senate chamber. You would have it easier getting your camel through that tiny eye in a needle than finding any sign at all of the best and brightest over there,

Our top federal officials, even our presidents have been no better. They all seem to spring full-blown from the same headwaters. They've all navigated their ships, guided their personal aircraft through the same choppy skies, all survived the same turbulence. Fueled by ambition while also motivated so frequently by sheer idiocy they have somehow landed safely in the corner office. George W. Bush, a limited man but with less pretense than many who preceded him in the Oval Office, put it better than most had. "I'm The Decider," he simply declared. Was "43" unaware that Dick Cheney and Karl Rove had each crawled up one of his pants legs all the way to Charles Colson's vision of political certainty? The heart and mind of Bush The Younger surely followed Cheney and Rove, just as Colson predicted night would follow day and winter would come immediately on the heels of autumn.

The only question remaining is - Why? Why do the idiots always rule and why do we let them? Have we nothing better to turn to?

When we were a country with fewer eligible candidates than the number of people who now pay their way into baseball games each season at Dodger Stadium we had among us the likes of Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Ben Franklin, Tom Paine and Alexander Hamilton. And who are we stuck with today? Again, there's no need to name names, is there?