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Toward better political candidates

Ross Douthat would like to see more "political journalists, think-tankers or public intellectuals" throwing themselves and their ideas into the arena. The only problem is that the people who spent all their time writing blog posts and reading policy documents didn't spend any of their time building the fundraising network that would allow them a viable candidacy. Time is fungible, and if you spend it learning stuff, you're not spending it glad-handing with rich people.

But in a world where something like the Fair Elections Act passed, a good reputation and a halfway-decent head for organizing could get you the 1,500 small-donor contributions that would be necessary for public funding to kick in. That would allow people who spent their lives doing things that are relevant to politics but not relevant to financing a political campaign the opportunity to finance a political campaign anyway. Maybe they'd even win.

The thing about the current political system is that no matter how much you like or agree with a politician, unless they're self-funded, you have to look at them and recognize that this is someone whose core competency is spending 30 percent of his or her time asking people for money, meeting and talking with people who might have money to give in the future, and generally figuring out how to pay to be a politician. That makes them a very weird person.

By Ezra Klein  |  March 3, 2010; 10:32 AM ET
 
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Comments

Lets just pray that they never make it illegal for citizens to organize at a grass-roots level and pool their money in order to fund election-affecting activity. The First Amendment completely loses its significance if congress can enact laws that restrict the ability of citizens to express political message---especially election-affecting political messages conveyed in mass-media outlets.

Posted by: FastEddieO007 | March 3, 2010 10:37 AM | Report abuse

The fact that Ross Douthat doesn't realize that think tankers, political journalists, and what passes of "public intellectuals", these days, are the least knowledgeable and most bought-off group of people in the political sphere makes me think that he is the last person you should ask about who should be running for political office.

Posted by: constans | March 3, 2010 10:40 AM | Report abuse

Each and every day of their term, members of Congress dial for dollars to the tune of over $6,000 per day. That's a lot of time every day spent on raising campaign cash and PAC monies rather than managing the business of the country - which is what they were hired to do.

Money pollutes politics. It's the reason why we have so many poor legislative decisions and so much corporate welfare.

I fully support the Fair Elections Act and the Sunlight Foundations recommendations. I'd like to see them enacted now, before the next election.

Posted by: valkayec | March 3, 2010 11:00 AM | Report abuse

Perhaps spending your time out there meeting the public, and yes, hearing what they want and what it would take to get their support -- even the support of businesses -- is better preparation than planning how you can move people and their lives around like pieces on a gameboard

Posted by: truck1 | March 3, 2010 11:03 AM | Report abuse

I support the act as well but practically speaking, it's probably not a very productive way of getting into politics by thinking first of DC. Down-ticket is usually more sensible for first-timers.

Posted by: leoklein | March 3, 2010 11:21 AM | Report abuse

This post points out two things I have believed for some time. The bulk of it shows that people who have the skill set required to govern effectively often lack the skill set required to get elected in the first place. There is little overlap between the two.

The last paragraph brings out why I so often feel icky when it's time to vote, as I am uncomfortable voting for someone who has been willing to do the things required to get elected.

Posted by: dlk117561 | March 3, 2010 11:46 AM | Report abuse

I've grown cynical enough that it no longer bothers me so much that many politicians don't seem to have much knowledge of (or interest in) policy details. What I still find shocking is how few political journalists seem to know anything about policy. I guess there you're talking about a group of people whose core competency is being in awe of powerful people and mindlessly writing down what they say.

Posted by: erh1103 | March 3, 2010 12:15 PM | Report abuse

Organization and political speech at grassroots level is usually useless. It took an abomination of W for 8 years to produce sufficient grassroots support for Deomcrats to overcome the steady and relentless pressure from Club For Growth and Chamber of Commerce that has been pushing the national politics to the right for several decades. Absent such blatant abuse, the general electorate is just as susceptible to campaign advertising as to the McDonalds variety. Statistically speaking, with very few exceptions the candidate spending more on advertising wins a race. And it takes a truly huge grass-roots movement to overcome corporate influence. Thus, absent some regulation, 9 out of 10 times the corporate interest overwhelms the public interest - until the abuse becomes intolerable, in which case if we're lucky we get a Democratic wave, and if not - a thousand Unibombers.

Posted by: DirtyPinkoCommie | March 3, 2010 12:57 PM | Report abuse

I disagree w/ Ezra on this somewhat. I think there are definitely bloggers, journalists, etc. who could drum up enormous amounts of small donations. Moreover, taking a progressive blogger, certainly there must be wealthy, liberal backers who could introduce said blogger to their other rich friends. And it isn't as though this candidate would need to have spent their career glad-handing; you could simply pick up that skill once working on a campaign. Most people hate it, most people take a while to learn it, but it isn't unreasonable. This whole task is probably simpler at the House level - less money needs to be raised, and it is more achievable via small donations - but at the same time, "a blogger in the Senate" as Douthat suggests could really, really captivate grassroots donors and rich ones alike. I feel as though, particularly on the progressive side, there are a lot of people who would do that to support someone who has been consistent on their issues for a long time.

I identify the main problem differently. The main problem is that this person would have a ridiculously long paper trail. That would be a boon to opposition researchers.

Posted by: gocowboys | March 3, 2010 1:00 PM | Report abuse

Ezra-

That last paragraph is an maxim for the ages.

Posted by: ChrisDC | March 3, 2010 2:00 PM | Report abuse

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