In a piece at RealClearPolicy Andy Smerick makes a very prudent observation:
There’s no doubt that academics, journalists, and pundits have a great deal to offer the national political conversation. But if they have not been shaped by the actual experience of holding governing authority, their perspectives will be incomplete. That absence will affect how they assess events, the advice they offer, and how they engage in the debate. Legendary Speaker of the House Sam Rayburn was on to something when he remarked, after being told about the brilliance and education of President Kennedy’s staff, “I’d feel a whole lot better about them if just one of them had run for sheriff once.”
I agree but I don’t think he goes far enough. I’d feel a whole lot better about our politicians if they’d done something, anything other than run for public office, held political jobs, or been academics. They don’t realize how cloistered those environments are. They are structured in ways that working in what blithely used to be called “the real world” is not. It’s a lot more like continuing in school than being a trucker or salesman is.
If you look at the careers of Supreme Court Justices, Congressional representatives, or senators, an astonishing number of them have been career politicians. They know nothing else. It separates them from us ordinary mortals in basic ways.
Whatever happened to the idea of public service being the culmination of a career rather than a career? Or, worse, a springboard to a lucrative job in lobbying or finance, trading on the contact you’d cultivated in public office? I think there is a problem with this sort of specialization and G. K. Chesterton understood it well:
We tend to have trained soldiers because they fight better, trained singers because they sing better, trained dancers because they dance better, specially instructed laughers because they laugh better, and so on and so on. The principle has been applied to law and politics by innumerable modern writers. Many Fabians have insisted that a greater part of our political work should be performed by experts. Many legalists have declared that the untrained jury should be altogether supplanted by the trained Judge.
The Fabian argument of the expert, that the man who is trained should be the man who is trusted, would be absolutely unanswerable if it were really true that a man who studied a thing and practiced it every day went on seeing more and more of its significance. But he does not. He goes on seeing less and less of its significance. In the same way, alas! we all go on every day, unless we are continually goading ourselves into gratitude and humility, seeing less and less of the significance of the sky or the stones.
Now, it is a terrible business to mark a man out for the vengeance of men. But it is a thing to which a man can grow accustomed, as he can to other terrible things; he can even grow accustomed to the sun. And the horrible thing about all legal officials, even the best, about all judges, magistrates, barristers, detectives, and policemen, is not that they are wicked (some of them are good), not that they are stupid (several of them are quite intelligent), it is simply that they have got used to it.
Strictly they do not see the prisoner in the dock; all they see is the usual man in the usual place.
I think that we should return to that former sensibility but I don’t know that we can. There is just too much money and power in being a professional elected official.