THE BLOG
08/07/2010 02:06 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

MEG AND ARNIE


Meg Whitman has a darn good chance of becoming the next governor of California, and that worries me; not just for California but for the nation. Her campaign reveals a lot about American politics today, far beyond our state boundaries, and why the nation is in trouble.

The other day Ms. Whitman was opening an outreach office in East Los Angeles, a smart move for anyone seeking the governorship. But the candidate has been sending mixed signals to that community.

During the primary she supported Arizona's controversial new law, and her top campaign official is Pete Wilson, architect of the legendary Prop. 187. All of which were good positions to take if you were trying to woo Republican, conservative voters. Now, however, she is running in the general election, and has shifted positions, trying to reach out to Latinos and claim more moderate stances on immigration. In the past that might have worked. But in the age of the internet, everything is on file, everything is available. Everything you have said and done.

As a result, a crowd showed up, hostile to the candidate. According to the Los Angeles Times, Ms. Whitman, used to "scripted" and "tightly controlled" appearances, was frazzled by her antagonists. The reporter, Seema Mehta, wrote that Whitman "seemed rattled, occasionally stumbled over her words and kept her remarks short". Not a good day for the aspiring politician.

That reaction seems legitimate, and hence my concern. Oh my lord! A protest! Folks did not seem to like her, were yelling and chanting! They had signs and banners! No governor of the Golden State has had to deal with that ever before, have they?

Thus, the issue I am highlighting here is not Ms. Whitman's policies; that is another matter entirely. Rather, it is her total lack of experience in holding elected office. I am sure she is an extremely talented businessperson; she would possibly do a great job as economic adviser to the governor.

But that's not the position she is after; instead she is a candidate for the state's highest elected position. Whatever the other merits of her resume, she has never run for office at any level, never had to deal with the people of this state--as voters this time, not as employees or as consumers--and it shows. A crowd like that--police estimates were that there were only a dismal 100 people present--threw her. What will she do when she faces thousands, chanting for her to resign, or go home, or whatever, which just about every former governor has had to handle in recent years, of either party?

And what will she do with state legislative leaders, duly elected by their own constituencies, and thus having an independent base, and as a result can ignore the governor's wishes? This is not a corporate board, or even less, a corporate staff room. As governor, she would no longer have the prerogatives, the authority of being the boss--who signs paychecks and can hire and fire at will-- but rather would be the head of the executive branch in a system with checks and balances. And with politics.

That is my real point. In America today--not just in California--politics and politicians are seen as all bad, in the most fundamental way.

Not me. I think there are good politicians and bad ones. Also good cops and bad, good plumbers and bad..good historians and piss poor ones. I want to vote for the good politicians--they are out there--and reject the bad ones. And I'm not interested in those who have never even played the game. In a similar vein, I would also not recommend someone who has never had any experience of baseball, other than sitting in the stands and reading the sports pages, to manage a major league team.

A solid politician has the interests of their constituents at heart, but also knows how to do the job. They would understand how the wheels of government turn, and also how the elective system works, then wield these systems to get results.

Ms. Whitman, no matter how prodigious her other achievements may be, has none of this experience. Neither do a lot of the other "protest" candidates. They even wear their lack of credentials like a badge. This is like declaring that you want to get chosen CEO of Ford without ever having driven a car, or knowing anything about business, either. Or asking to replace Steven Jobs at Apple, but you've never turned on a computer. I don't see the appeal.

Politics is part of the life of a democracy. Some handle it better than others, but I avoid folks who have never participated at all, and instead look for quality, and the appropriate background for a given level of responsibility. In teaching, for example, we welcome newcomers, but label them as "Student Instructors," and set up a growth and development process leading to full status in the classroom. What we don't do is to hand over the keys to the principal's office the first day on the job. That's how real life works, for auto mechanics and rocket scientists alike. Somehow politics seems to defy this rule of common sense, for reasons not clear to me.

Of course, California has experience with this kind of situation. What would it be like to have a governor with strong ideas, but who had never been elected to anything before, had never had to negotiate with legislators over budgets, had never dealt with the public and propositions?

If you liked Arnie, you'll love Meg,