None of the Above

Last month we got a letter from an organization that calls itself “People to People International.” They were writing to invite our daughter to attend, at our expense, be sure, an educational experience in Australia. The letter assured us that “Caroline has been named for this honor by a teacher, former Student Ambassador or national academic listing.”

Their website provides similarly deceptive statements intended to suggest that the organization is not a vast moneymaking enterprise disguised as a selective academic organization. As best I can tell, Caroline, who has been dead since 1999, lingers on a couple of mailing lists because for a short while she received the “American Girl” doll magazine.

The lesson, for those of you with children who have begun to receive such solicitations, is to investigate before writing a check. There are a host of organizations (and I could name a couple of well-known ones in Washington, D.C.) that advertise themselves as selective academic opportunities, when in reality they are either glorified and overpriced touring agencies, or cheap labor mills for organizations like the Republican and Democratic National Committees.

And speaking of lying liars, around the same time I got a survey from Howard Dean, addressed to “Dear Fellow Democrat.” His letter explains that I have been asked to complete the survey because I am “an active and engaged member of our Party” in my community. I’m pretty sure this comes from my subscription to The Atlantic Monthly. The only way I’ll likely ever be an “active and engaged” leader in my community is if they try to ban Krispy Kreme.

It’s standard practice now for both parties to send out such breathless literature, claiming that it is a selective effort to solicit the opinions of key leaders. In reality, of course, it’s a funding solicitation. It’s a lie nonetheless, and both parties ought to be ashamed.

As if the leadership of either organization were capable of such a thing as shame. We’ve sunk awfully far, it seems, when leaders of the self-styled liberty and decency party can make the likes of Charlie Rangel and Nancy Pelosi look like they may be worth a shot.

I’ve recently received invitations from decent and kind people in my church, asking me to attend fundraisers for local political candidates. My tactic is to ignore the invitation if possible, for fear of offending them. They mean well, they really do. But the truth of it is that I don’t ever intend to give money to another politician, because it occurs to me that doing so only encourages them. Maybe if we stop paying them to sing and dance for us they’ll get real jobs and leave everyone alone.

The state of Arizona used to have a rule that required a state office to go unstaffed and unfunded if a majority of voters wrote in “None of the Above” on their ballots. Perhaps it would lead to disaster, but I’m willing to give it a try. I had a wise professor in graduate school who liked to note that while critics fault American government for being unresponsive to the interests of the people, the reality is that it’s too responsive. It tries to give everyone everything by pretending that there are no tradeoffs. In short, we tend to get the government we deserve. Or, as H.L. Mencken wrote: “Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard.”

Imagine someone who speaks the truth as he sees it, who gives direct and clear answers to questions, and who is honest about his own failings and sins and fears. Imagine someone who refuses to compromise his principles for the sake of a key donation, or in order to insure that his party maintains a majority, or even to insure his own re-election. Do you think he would have a shot on November 7th? Of course not. What’s worse, our opinion of him would be that he’s a nut, or hopelessly damaged. We can’t even tolerate an honest sinner in the pulpit of our church, let alone as our Senator or President.

So we enable the charade, hoping for the one completely righteous and wise man to ride out of the desert and set all things straight. (And when he does show up, he won’t be running for office, you can be sure.) I think our mistake is that we yearn for leaders who are better than us, and subject them to a process of constant campaigning and fundraising that insures the opposite, that morally and spiritually they are very likely to be far worse than the average American. What kind of person, after all, can spend his entire life trying to secure votes? Not someone you’d trust with your daughters or your wallet.

We want wise kings, and there are none, and so it seems to me the only logical solution is to give them as little authority as possible, watch them like hawks, and send them back to the real world at the first sign that they’re starting to enjoy themselves. And if somebody can figure out how to word that as a Constitutional Amendment, we’ll all be indebted to you.