03/18/2010 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Getting the Government We Seem to Want

The current turmoil in Colorado politics and beyond, marked by resignations of senior elected officials, has many lessons. First among these is: "It isn't fun anymore." From the nation's founding, the idea of public service never was meant to be "fun." The Jeffersons, Madisons, and Hamiltons intended the thoughtful, dedicated, and dis-interested (that is, those who were committed to the public interest) to hold public office for a time and then return to the ordinary citizen's life--involved and engaged but not in an official capacity.

But, having held office in the 1970s and 1980s, I can testify to the fact that politics used to be more civilized, more collegial, and more, well, enjoyable. It certainly was more honorable. Since then, the confluence of exorbitant campaign costs, special interest influence, and the meanness of "consultants" have all conspired to remove almost all joy from public service. The net result is, with a few notable exceptions, the decline in the caliber and quality of Americans willing to serve.

For the tea-baggers and government-haters, this is all to the good. They claim to love our country even while hating its government. So, the worse the government performance, the more it proves their point. And the less thoughtful, intelligent, and wise the elected officials, the worse the government.

The U.S. Commission on National Security for the 21st Century reported this in January 2001: "the United States finds itself on the brink of an unprecedented crisis of competence in government. The maintenance of American power in the world depends on the quality of U.S. government all levels. In this light, the declining orientation toward government service as a prestigious career is deeply troubling." Deeply troubling not for some reason of abstract civics, but deeply troubling for the security of this nation.

So, the cynics and trolls who scream like banshees at town hall meetings and scan the blogosphere to post cynical put-downs of their country's government are hurting no one but themselves. Not one of these people has the courage to stand for public office. And the most qualified Americans will continue to choose not to serve their country and we will continue to be weaker for it.