George Washington

Are Professional Politicians Obsolete?

In writing The Great Growing Up, I had originally included lots of material that had to be cut for the final print version, including a rant on partisanship and the concerns expressed by George Washington about how it could ruin our nation.

George Washington

Washington was clear there needed to be more than one political party, despite his being the only American president not to have been a member of one of the nation’s two main parties. He envisioned that multiple perspectives could lead to better laws and governance than any single point-of-view. He saw that a synergetic outcome could result – the whole is better than the sum of the parts – the best of the various perspectives coming together for a positive enhancement – the best for all.

He was concerned about what we today call “partisanship” as that could yield the worst outcomes – or the worst outcomes for all. I call this “negative synergy” – when the whole is less than the sum of the parts.

As far as I can see, Washington’s worse fears have been realized in the city bearing his name. We cannot seem to agree on anything and whatever does get through the disgraceful process we might call legislative rigor is certainly not the best for all. Rather it is vapid, overly complicated and riddled with special interest “pork.” I suspect the father of our country has been rolling over in his grave pretty regularly in recent decades over this state of affairs which he had dreaded.

One way Washington displayed his vision was refusing to be called “king” as had been proposed as he was being considered for our country’s head of state. After all, we lived in a world of monarchs where bad ones were occasionally replaced with better ones, and George was certainly a better leader that what the English had been providing.

Another means by which Washington displayed his vision was to step away from power after two terms, and to do so with grace. He saw the dangers of being in the role of leadership for too long. There was a certain “’wisdom of crowds” that existed when our original elected officials came from a variety of backgrounds – farmers, merchants, soldiers, inventors, etc. No one was a “professional politician.” Washington saw the wisdom of continuously refreshing the population of lawmakers. He saw the prospective danger of long term or even lifetime office-holding that leads to the opposite effect of “wisdom of crowds” and falling into “group think” as we have now in our legislative halls.

Term limits seem to be a subject that never makes it into what passes for dialogue in Washington; it sits instead right alongside another of the subjects the “professionals” want no part of — campaign reform. And why should they engage these subjects? After all, they’ve been able to set their own salaries, retirement plans, healthcare benefits and work schedules — who would want to change anything?