Thursday, October 4, 2012

Business Experience

When Dan Seals was running for Congress full-time, Republicans and some Democrats said he wasn't qualified because he was just trying to land a job. They said he didn't have enough business experience to serve in Congress.

When Bob Dold first ran for Congress, some Democrats gleefully turned the tables and attacked him for not having really managed his family business as he claimed. They pointed out that he was named president of his parents' pest control business just in time for the election, and that his resume showed that he was so busy working on various political staffs outside Illinois that he couldn't possibly have been the business executive that he pretended to be.

Two years later, when Ilya Sheyman ran for the Democratic nomination to run against Dold, he was attacked for being too young and not having enough business experience to know how to help the country get out of the recession. Republicans had fun joining some Democrats who were making these attacks.

Now, Bob Dold is saying that Brad Schneider doesn't really have the business experience that he claims to have. Dold and his backers say that Schneider's consulting company didn't show a profit for the past few years, and that his business credentials are therefore invalid.

The cycle is complete. A pattern has been established. Democrats and Republicans in the 10th District attack each other every election on exactly the same personal issue. Candidates are judged, among other things, on whether they are rich enough and have enough business experience. Neither Mother Theresa, Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., or Jesus Christ would do very well if judged by this standard. Very few people who unselfishly devote their lives to public service would.

Despite weekly exhortations from the pulpit that we should devote our lives not to the quest for wealth but to the pursuit of more significant goals, and despite sanctimonious pronouncements on MLK Day by politicians that we should judge one another by the contents of our characters, it is obvious that some politicians think the real criteria we should use to select our leaders is whether they have somehow accumulated a lot of money.

Americans used to tell each other that a person shouldn't be discouraged if they stumbled. The important thing was whether you got up, dusted yourself off, and tried again. But in the 10th District the ethos has changed. Now, it doesn't matter how determined you are. If you don't manage to make a lot of money in business, you are branded a failure in all aspects of life, and particularly unacceptable as a politician.

If government was a business, it might make sense to elect only business people to office. But government is supposed to be more than that. It is supposed to be the instrument of the will of all people. If success at business was due only to skill, it might make sense to elect only skilled business people. But success at business is due to a lot of things other than skill, including luck. If the only measure of success in business was money, we could decide who to vote for simply by looking at their bank accounts and investments. But for business people, success should also be measured by how they treat their customers, suppliers, employees, competitors, and the world.

Neither Democrats or Republicans will say that they prefer to live in a plutocracy, where the wealthy govern, rather than in a democracy, where the people rule themselves. But in the 10th District, it seems like plutocrats are what some people in both parties want.

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