Opinions, Column

Dealing With Those Unfit To Govern

Sometimes, the good guys lose. Anyone who has ever read a Shakespearean tragedy or has watched HBO’s The Newsroom, only to have it cancelled after a flawless second season, knows this. From time to time, the universe will smite you with what seems to be unbearable, senseless pain, with no clear purpose other than to remind you of the incredible and unending suffering that this world allows. And that is what happened during the midterm elections of 2014.

It probably won’t be that bad.

It is worth pointing out that the man who will almost certainly assume the chair of the Senate’s Committee on Environment and Public Works in January is the author of a book entitled The Greatest Hoax: How the Global Warming Conspiracy Threatens Your Future. While I have yet to read it, excerpts and the Amazon preview revealed no footnotes or research, and all evidence seems to come from what I’m sure is a carefully edited, peer-reviewed journal called “The Book of Genesis.”

So, on an unrelated note, if you happen to have one of those crazy uncles who thinks we faked the moon landing, your holiday shopping might have just gotten a little easier.

Now, if all were right in the world, the book alone would be enough to prohibit James Inhofe, the Republican senior senator from Oklahoma, from supervising a middle school science fair, and certainly from assuming an integral role in the approval of federal funding for scientific research. The chair, however, is selected from the majority party. A few weeks ago, the pool of applicants became rather shallow, leading Michael Specter to remark in last week’s The New Yorker—outside of the humor section—that Pope Francis might be a better choice to head up the committee. As far as I can tell, he’s right.

Now let that sink in. If the head of an organization which preaches, quite openly, the Assumption of the Virgin Mary—the doctrine that she never died and was sucked right up into heaven like Captain Kirk—actually becomes a better choice for the head of a committee on science than the man we are going to put in charge, a mistake was probably made somewhere. Probably a big one.

The error runs much deeper than partisan lines. It is a problem of people—specifically the ones in Congress. More than ever before, Washington is run by career politicians.

While they are referred to most often by the designation “public servant,” these people do no ostensible service to the public beyond the vague, fruitless promises of their professionally constructed campaign speeches. They fight, deceive, and acquire undisclosed amounts of money from shady interest groups in order to get elected, so that they can fight, deceive, and acquire more money to be elected again, ad infinitum.

As the U.S. has become more populated and complex, the bureaucracy has expanded and complicated itself accordingly. For every new government function, there is a committee, a subcommittee, a majority leader, a minority leader, and more back-alley money than you’d find in Tony Soprano’s garage.

If these committees were set up to function rationally (I know that sounds strange, but bear with me), one would assume that medical issues would be addressed by doctors, matters of science would be attended to by scientists, and integral decisions on educational policy would be left to … that’s right, educators. But what could motivate a kind, level-headed doctor, researcher, or teacher to suffer the abuse and corruption that comes with membership in a legislature made up of lobbyists and professional politicians?

Although it is tempting to believe that it’s always been this way, a study done by the Brookings Institute reveals that the number of people in Congress who designate their primary occupation as “professional politician” or “public servant” has jumped from 94 in 1987 to 184 in 2013, outnumbering even lawyers, who dropped from 184 to 156.

This makes one wonder why the people in charge of the most important decisions regarding the allocation of funds for science, the arts, and education are left to people who have forgone a continued education in any of these subjects in favor of self-promotion, electoral math, and campaign fundraising.

This isn’t a problem with a quick solution. It is a deep flaw in the way we consider people fit or unfit to govern, and any real progress demands its solution.

Featured Image by Francisco Ruelo / For The Heights

November 20, 2014