The ‘best and brightest’ are passing on leading the nation

Deval Patrick, the former Massachusetts governor who announced Wednesday he won’t run for president, has already distinguished himself as a different kind of potential presidential candidate. Unlike most politicians who are being coy with the media while claiming they haven’t made up their minds about running for office, Patrick really was weighing both sides of running and really was undecided.

Last month’s extended (and fascinating) interview in The New Yorker seemed like a well-timed prelude to a campaign. Nope.

Maybe he figured out he couldn’t get the money to run. Maybe the poll numbers were bad. Maybe only one candidate can emerge from Massachusetts. Maybe his ties to big money and his record as governor turned too many off, despite his fascinating rise from the south side of Chicago.

But his stated reason for not running is as troubling a threat to the future of democracy as any of the more acknowledged threats (looking at you, Wisconsin) these days.

Running for office isn’t worth the trouble.

After a lot of conversation, reflection and prayer, I’ve decided that a 2020 campaign for president is not for me. I’ve…

Posted by Deval Patrick on Thursday, December 6, 2018

“It’s hard to see how you even get noticed in such a big, broad field without being shrill, sensational, or a celebrity — and I’m none of those things and I’m never going to be any of those things,” he told a podcast hosted by David Axelrod, one of the members of the Obama machine that Patrick would’ve inherited if he’d decided to run.

There’s certainly an argument to be made about Patrick’s baggage and his strengths; that’s just the way the democratic process works.

But one of the startling aspects of the last presidential campaign, was how many qualified, highly regarded potential candidates stayed on the sideline, often leaving a clown car full of presidential aspirants in the field.

If the nation is to endure, we’re going to have to figure out how to have a presidential electoral process that doesn’t destroy people and families in the process of fairly vetting their credentials for holding the office.

  • kevins

    I don’t blame him.

    • Gary F

      I’m not sure why anyone would want to run for President.

      • Joseph

        Or even elected office in general, at any level. The type of poltical fighting and mud-slinging is found at all levels now, not just POTUS.

  • Al

    One could argue we’ve never had the best and the brightest even consider the job until fairly recently. The old [white] boys’ club did a pretty good job keeping the best and the brightest in their places in the not-too-distant past.

    • MikeB

      (60 to 70 to 80% of this country) did a pretty good job keeping the best and the brightest in their places in the not-too-distant past.

  • Rob

    Sadly, I have seen the future, and it is replete with nothing but clown cars.
    Enduring nation? Fuhgeddaboudit.

  • Wayne

    Douglas Adams has been a good source of quotes on this subject…

    “The President in particular is very much a
    figurehead — he wields no real power whatsoever. He is apparently chosen
    by the government, but the qualities he is required to display are not
    those of leadership but those of finely judged outrage. For this reason
    the President is always a controversial choice, always an infuriating
    but fascinating character. His job is not to wield power but to draw
    attention away from it. On those criteria Zaphod Beeblebrox is one of
    the most successful Presidents the Galaxy has ever had — he has already
    spent two of his ten presidential years in prison for fraud.”

    “It is a well-known fact that those people who most want to rule people
    are, ipso facto, those least suited to do it… anyone who is capable of
    getting themselves made President should on no account be allowed to do
    the job.”

    • Barton

      and with that, you’ve made my day.

      I’m off to find where I left my towel.

      • Wayne

        Seriously. These days I’ve been keeping mine close by, and making sure my kids have theirs in their backpacks before school.

        • Jerry

          So you’re saying you’re a frood who really knows where his towel is?

          • Wayne

            Not so arrogant as to call myself hoopy, but I like to think so.

  • Gary F
    • The other part of the threat to democracy is people thinking the election is over two years ahead of time.

      We are one messed up mess of a country.

      • Gary F

        Way to early to be talking about this. The problem with the Dem’s is the farm club wasn’t being developed because Hillary was supposed to be coronated. Who we are talking about now probably isn’t gong to be getting the nod come summer of 2020. My money is on Oprah, because the media establishment will brow beat anyone who dares to criticize her. She will get the nomination without being asked a serious policy question.

        • And here we are: Another Dem v. Republican thread when the actual issue is a structural analysis of the nation’s electoral process.

          It’s hopeless.

          Americans are no longer capable of having the kind of introspective dialogue that is required.

          • Gary F

            Running for President is no longer two parties discussing the issues. That went away a long time ago.

          • Joseph

            It’s weird, I agree with Gary with about something 😛
            The last 2016 election barely even talked about policy proposals. And it seemed like large portions of the country (from any and all backgrounds and political persuasions) were perfectly fine with that. Maybe we got the President we deserved 🙁

  • MrE85

    Anyone who runs against the current occupant, provided they are still around, is going to face one of the meanest, most vile presidential campaigns in history. I can’t really fault someone who doesn’t want to put their family through that.

    Like you, I guess I read that New Yorker profile for nothing.

    • QuietBlue

      I think the primary process itself will fit that description, let alone the general election.

      I really can’t blame anyone for not wanting to be a public figure of any sort these days.

  • JamieHX

    Patrick would have been well on the way to getting my vote just because he knows how to use “whom.” :o)

  • MikeB

    Running for the highest office in the world is an absolute grind, requiring a seemingly unhealthy amount of ambition and determination. But how do we fix it? How do we attract the most talented people to run for this office? Media coverage is superficial and full of gossip (mentioned below) but readers/viewers flock to that coverage. Policy discussions are covered in the lens of politics – will this help or hurt candidate X?

    The voting public gets what it deserves. Sometimes it helps the country.

    • Joseph

      And that’s if policy discussions are covered at all. Sadly, its usually relegated to PBS Newshour and Almanac (both of which I love and are fantastic), but are ignored by large portions of the population for being “too boring” or “too academic” and above peoples heads. Sort of like how if there is a show on television that actually has smart writing and plot lines and requires the viewer to put in a bit of mental thought and capacity (like Firefly, or Timeless) it will get canceled quickly, and replaced with yet another reality-television show/singing competition/police-medical-law practice drama that is as formulaic and unoriginal as its predecessors — guaranteeing the replacement show will last for at least ten seasons if not more 😛

  • The Resistance

    It has been drilled into us for a couple of generations now that “government is the problem.” Sadly, both parties have piled on to this message. So why would anyone want to get into that line of business? If I were a recent college grad with that message beat into me all my life I’d more likely to want to work at an NGO if I want to effect change.

    The reality is that good government solves a lot of problems. Democrats made a huge mistake when they ran away from all of the good that the ACA did for citizens. It should have embraced and publicized every person whose life was positively changed for the better with more access to health care. The same can be said of infrastructure, civil rights, clean energy, access to quality education.

    Once parties (mostly talking to you, Democrats) embrace the positive things that good governance can do I think we’ll see more qualified candidates step up.

    Most people want to be part of the solution.

    • Joseph

      As a millennial in government, I chose this path because I realized in late high school, when I was seriously considering what I wanted to study in college and thus what career path I would take in life (or at least start out on), I wanted to do something that made a difference, that helps people. I realized that working solely to profit financially was not something that attracted me. And my experience has been that the people serving in government in the executive/judicial branches (local, regional, state, and federal) mostly all share this view, and are good people who care about other people. (Those in the state and federal legislatures seem to be a 50-50 mixed bag; those who are in it for the right reasons of truly public service, and those in it for the power, prestige and wealth.)

  • Deleting all messages that are just the usual political diarhea about who is and isn’t running. This is a thread that requires a little more introspection than what people are force fed by the usual fantasy-football type political analysis.


  • Barton

    Somehow I’d like to see our elections run more like they are in the UK (though I’m not sure how that is possible with their parliamentary system vs our representative democracy – PM v President being the big difference here). Their elections are announced and campaigning can only take place for 6 weeks: to do so any earlier results in sanctions (not big ones, but still). This would definitely prevent voter fatigue (people are already complaining about 2020 and we’ve barely started the real work!).

    More importantly, the biggest difference is in their campaign ads – they must be factual. Period. Paid advertisements are forbidden in the UK (and in the Republic of Ireland). Attack ads are thus controlled through the advertising laws (because special interest groups cannot pay for them like they do here).

    I bring this up because I think more qualified, intelligent people – such as Mr Patrick – would run for national offices (and more local offices) if the mud-slinging and personal attackers were not there. No one with any true intelligence (IMO) wants to go into a race where they know people will make up crazy stuff about them and there is no way to defend it.

    • Jerry

      I feel that the parliamentary system encourages leaders who actually know how the system works, as opposed to being susceptible to demogugues of either party, like our system is. It also helps that in the UK, the Head of State is not the Head of Government.

    • Jay T. Berken

      “campaign ads – they must be factual”

      I wonder how deep they go into to fact-checking after the Brexit leave campaign stretched the truth on how much money will be coming back to Britain.

    • Jay T. Berken

      I agree that we should be a parliamentary system which I believe, besides Brexit, is more moderate because it is not winner takes all. Case in point, look at Brexit, PM Maye is the sitting leader to negotiate out of the EU. Say what you may of her and her perceived stumbles, she is right now going for a soft exit. They didn’t vote in a Boris Johnson, yet, that would just set the country on fire like Trump is.

      I was listening to Slate’s Political Gabfest and at the end of the podcast they were talking about ‘ What if you could change an event in the U.S., what would it be?’ One was that President Garfield wasn’t shot, would the reconstruction of the country been better after the Civil War. But the one I really thought was interesting was, “What if the American Revolution did not happen?” I first brushed it off as dumb idea, but listening to their arguments, I warmed up to it. Not to get into all the arguments, the conclusion came down to that without the American Revolution, the U.S. would be a bigger Canada with a parliamentary system.

  • Jay T. Berken

    This somewhat mirrors the teaching profession.

  • king harvest

    Aren’t the best and brightest, by definition, rare? So statistically there really shouldn’t be many in government.
    The main problem with the electoral process is the American people. Venal, self absorbed, petty, and none too smart.
    But is the process broken? A President will be buried today who was elected with the same “process “. Perhaps it is because the worst and incompetent have a megaphone in this age of social media.
    If it’s not raining, I might walk down to the tracks and watch the funeral train go by.

  • Mike Worcester

    When it comes to the presidential election process, I have several wishes that I know will never come true, but I can still think about them:
    1. I wished the next campaign for president did not begin the day after the last one ended. Having a never-ending cycle of speculation, breathless coverage, and never-ever-ever-ending analysis of the same information over and over gets tiresome. And this is not anything new. The election of Bill Clinton had barely finished in 1992 when talking heads were speculating on who would challenge him in 1996.
    2. Relating to #1, I wished talking heads — though I get this is their job and ratings are important — would stop all the breathlessness and hyperventilating about who’s up next and why isn’t so-and-so running and who has the “chops” to make then run. It feels like a merry-go-round that is spinning out of control.
    3. Relating to 1 and 2 — Even if the general public stop paying attention and caring about the never-ending elections, will that make a difference? Considering how much $$ is needed to run for president can potential candidates afford to?
    4. Some days, I wonder if the reforms enacted after the 1968 election — recall that V.P. Humphrey did not even run in any of the primary races — hurt more than they helped. Makes me wonder if the dilution of party power has ill-served the process. Yeah, I know that’s a touchy topic, but I don’t think I’m the only one who has wondered it.

    Just some random thoughts on the subject.

    • king harvest

      The reforms of 1968. I have no idea what those were. Was it only one party? A law or laws? If it’s not too much a bother, please give a little background. Thanks

      • Mike Worcester

        The reforms were more done by the parties in how they chose their candidates, not in how elections were conducted per se. For example, The Dems took this path:

        • king harvest

          ETA: An interesting read. It does somewhat conflict with the idea that Hillary was anointed this last go round.

    • Jerry

      It’s the treatment of politics as a spectator sport as opposed to something that has real consequence on people’s lives.

      • Jay T. Berken

        This is why the current President weeks after being anaugerated, announced his campaign that he was running for 2020. He can raise money and travel the country doing his rallies. But it is biting his administration in the butt since they are in campaign mode, his staff cannot make as many statements about campaign propaganda.

  • Kassie

    I’ve been thinking about the “best and the brightest” not in terms of politicians, but in terms of civil servants a lot lately. Right now in Minnesota, every executive level position will be evaluated and someone chosen for the job by the Walz team. These are the Commissioner, Deputy Commisioner, Assistant Commissioner, etc. positions. Current holders are asked to reapply if they want the job.

    With these positions, and particularly in my agency, what we DON’T get are the Best and the Brightest. I’m in IT. Who wants to run a 3000 person IT agency with thousands of applications, inlcuding MNLARS and MNSure, for $150,000 a year? Database Administrators make that kind of money, not high level IT executives.

    But what we NEED is the best and the brightest. We need someone who can modernize our infrastructure, fend off non-stop cyber attacks, motivate employees, and put processes in place so something like MNLARS is less likely to happen again. Instead, we will get someone who is pretty ok. Maybe kinda great, but sort of bad is a possibility too. There is no pride in giving back to your state/country anymore and finding folks to do it at relatively low wages is a very hard thing to do.