Monday, August 29, 2011

Candidate Selection on the Left: More Examples

I was complaining last month about the almost suicidal knack among liberals for picking shoot-em-in-the-foot candidates: conscientious wonks or charming, clubbable society boys who couldn't find the VFW hall with a GPS.  Somewhat tentatively, I offer up a few more examples.

I'm tentative because I want to venture onto foreign soil, where my knowledge base is (even) thinner than it is at home. But look at the British liberals (if you must, lib dems), and forget the current deputy prime minister, who is probably too close for us to understand well.  No, go back just a few years: few years: who could imagine winning a national election with a candidate who is (a) accused of having a homsexual affair when homsexuality was still a crime in Britain and (b) of conspiring to murder his accuser?  You're too young to remember?  Go here, I almost have to remind myself that I'm not making this stuff up.    His predecessor (and, indeed, successor) was, I'd have to admit, not nearly so bizarre; was far more successful at doing the things party leaders are supposed to do--win elections, get out the votes.  Yet he also reeked (if I may say) of a kind of exclusionary elitism tht was bound to put a limit on his capacity to command a serious majority. He became a life peer; Wiki reports that his wife was (a) the sister of a life peer; (b) the daughter of a life peeress; and (c) the grandaughter of a hereditary peer ("of the first creation," as a careful eulogist would add). It all smells just way too much of a party that is more interested in being brilliant in a supercool sort of way than doing any real goverening.

Which brings me closer to home, albeit I admit no closer to real knowledge.  Now I'm talking Canada, where a glitteringly brilliant (as they say) historian and novelist in just two short years led the Liberal party to near-extinction (real extinction may yet ensue).  I see that his Wiki calls him an "author, academic and former politician."  As one who might desire victory for a liberal platform, as to the "former" part, I can only add my prayerful wish.

All of which recalls to mind another example, back on home turf, though I had forgotten him until just today.  I actually met him once, briefly, while he was in the House of Representatives.  He was tall--not a lot of tall men in those in the House, at least in those days--good-looking and an affable with embroidery on the pocket of his blazer that spelled out "well-bred."  Okay, that's a stretcher about the embroidery, but not about the candidate--I'm talking John V. Lindsay, certainly the most incompetent New York City mayor in modern memory.  I'm talking "incompetent" in the narrow sense here: an entirely decent and at least adequately bright young man who simply had no clue as to what his responsibilities might be at the helm of a great city.  Murray Kempton, who might have known better, enthused that Lindsay "is fresh and everyone else is tired."   Fresh he may have been, but New Yorkers tired of him soon enough as the teachers hit the street and the garbage caught fire.  New York's fabled near-bankruptcy didn't actually occur on his watch, but much of what he did or failed to do belongs in the account of what brought the bankruptcy episode about.

I think there is a common theme through all of this: the story of coterie politicians who get caught in an echo chamber, driven by their own good intentions.  I'd venture that ever single example I've cited, here and in the predecessor post, is/was a person full of good intentions, eager for chance to do right by his public.  To a greater or lesser degree I suppose they all have at least some of the skills you need to manage public policy.  But nearly all of them are more or less catastrophic at the task of governing.  Perhaps the unluckiest, both for themselves and for us, are the ones who actually get their hands on power.

1 comment:

Ken Houghton said...

I won't go near explaining Thorpe, but if you look at the blogposts of Scott Lemieux at LG&M, or some of my comments about Iggy both at AB and in comment threads, you'll see that Canadian liberals incredulous that the Party would select him--especially given the party line about why Bob Rae failed (too academic).

Parties outlive their usefulness. Either the core quit and form a new party, or they self-destruct because they believe their own hype.

Or they get overthrown.