Many Americans seem to have adopted the notion that what ails our federal government can only be cured by “political outsiders.” This quaint notion seems to be based on the premise that all career politicians (the “insiders”) are inept at best, corrupt at worst — and that only non-politicians who are “above the fray” can save us.
As a 20-year volunteer citizen lobbyist, my experience is that the election of “outsiders” and political novices (from any party) results in little more than elected officials who don’t know how to do their jobs, and who must attempt to quickly learn what the insiders know, or rely heavily on hired or appointed staff who do.
When paired with the self-image that they have been elected to change Washington and save our nation, the neo-politician’s resulting combination of arrogance and incompetence can be embarrassing at best, dangerous at worst.
As an employee of two Fortune 500 companies, I’ve seen hiring managers and boards go to great lengths to find the most qualified leaders and employees — or suffer sometimes disastrous consequences when they failed to do so. In these businesses, it would generally be considered ludicrous to insist on filling an open job with an “outsider” who has never done the work in question or has no expertise in that business sector.
Why, then, is this approach considered any less ludicrous in the race for the White House and the “most powerful job in the world”?
Vote for who you will, but let’s at least find out what our presidential candidates actually know about the responsibilities in their job descriptions. We can start by skipping the upcoming presidential and vice presidential debates. I suggest a different approach.
Let’s replace these pointless, prime-time squabbles with a one-hour quiz show. It could be moderated by Alex Trebek, our senior statesmen of American game shows, who could ask the candidates job-related questions like:
• Name the Cabinet-level positions that will report to you as president.
• Within 10,000, what is the total number of active duty personnel in the armed forces you will command as president? And how many in the reserves?
• Within 100,000, name the number of nonpostal federal civilian employees who will comprise the federal government when you are leading it.
• Name the member nations of the Group of Seven (“G-7”) economic allies.
• Which countries make up the NATO Alliance?
• Name last year’s top three trading partners of the United States.
• Within $1,000, what annual income is considered poverty level by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services? What percent of Americans live at or below that income level?
The results of our first-ever presidential quiz would give American voters more information about the qualifications of their presidential candidates than any presidential debate ever could. Gone would be the relentless talking points, pivoting answers, meandering rhetoric and undeliverable promises that have made past debates an exercise in silliness — replaced by a true comparison of what the candidates actually know about the job they think voters should give them.
And the television and cable networks that have tried in vain to make those debates sexier with animated logos, expensive sets and “halftime show” formats will get something they thrive on: good ratings.
Les Bendtsen, of Minneapolis, is a retired board of directors member for the Human Rights Campaign, Washington, DC.