Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Politicians need not apply -- May 7, 2015 column


Republican Carly Fiorina has never held elective office, although not for lack of trying.

In 2010 the former chief executive of Hewlett-Packard sank $5.5 million of her own fortune into her Senate bid in California against Democratic incumbent Barbara Boxer. Despite a Republican wave nationally, Fiorina lost.

So, when she announced her presidential bid on Monday, Fiorina tried to make a virtue of her inexperience.

“Our Founders never intended us to have a professional political class,” she said in a video. “They believed that citizens and leaders needed to step forward.”

Welcome to yet another presidential campaign in which amateur candidates hope voters will overlook their lack of political know-how, and no candidate admits to being a politician.

Fiorina isn’t the only GOP presidential candidate who’s starting at the top. Ben Carson, author and retired pediatric neurosurgeon, has never held or even run for office.  

“I’m not a politician,” Carson said Monday in Detroit, launching his campaign. “I don’t want to be a politician because politicians do what is politically expedient. I want to do what’s right.”

That may sound refreshing, but our political system often requires cooperation and compromise.

As the former governor of Arkansas, Mike Huckabee is no stranger to politics. After winning  the 2008 Iowa caucuses, he quit the race. He sat out 2012.  

When he entered the presidential contest Tuesday, Huckabee chided politicians, without mentioning any names, for the common practice of holding one office while seeking another, something several of his Republican competitors are doing.

“If you live off the government payroll and you want to run for (an) office other than the one you’ve been elected to, then at least have the integrity and decency to resign the one that you don’t want anymore,” Huckabee said.

Even seasoned politicians are distancing themselves from their calling. Bill Clinton amazingly declared in an interview the other day, “I’m not in politics.” Hillary Clinton has a resume as long as your arm, but her performance in office may be a liability.

The 2016 presidential race is starting to sound a lot like 2008, when another self-styled Washington outsider won favor.

Here’s Fiorina:  “If you’re tired of the sound bites, the vitriol, the pettiness, the egos, the corruption, if you believe it’s time . . . for citizens to stand up to the political class and say enough, then join us.”

And here’s freshman Sen. Barack Obama in 2008: “If you believe that part of the problem is the failed politics of Washington and the conventional thinking in Washington, if you’re tired of the backbiting and the scorekeeping and the special-interest-driven politics of Washington, if you want somebody who can bring the country together around a common purpose and rally us around a common destiny, then I’m your guy.”

Fiorina, likely the only woman in the GOP field, is positioning herself as the anti-Hillary, and Carson, likely the only black man, as the anti-Obama. Critics say neither has a chance of actually capturing the GOP presidential nomination.

That certainly will be true if they fail to land onstage at the Republican debates starting in August.  The Republican National Committee is working on the criteria for determining who will be eligible to participate.

In presidential politics, though, hope springs. The patron saint of long shots is Jimmy Carter. In 1974, Carter was such a confirmed nobody that when he went on the TV game show “What’s My Line?” not one of the panelists recognized him. He was governor of Georgia at the time. Two years later, he was elected president.

But Carter’s presidency was lackluster and Obama’s has suffered because he lacked the political skills to deal with the entrenched powers in Washington. Voters should remember that it takes more than a fresh face to get things done.

Hovering over the non-politicians is the specter of Herman Cain. The flamboyant pizza company executive and tea party darling surged in the polls of GOP presidential hopefuls in 2011, leading Mitt Romney by 20 points. Cain’s star plunged just as quickly, and he left the race amid charges of sexual impropriety.

No outsider wants to be the Herman Cain of 2016.   

© 2015 Marsha Mercer. All rights reserved.


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