I had a disquieting exchange yesterday with a very nice woman who is apparently enamored of Ben Carson, and considers him qualified to be President. Because he’s a brain surgeon.
Carson–as political observers have noted and as his interviews have made painfully clear–is a seemingly nice man with no previous experience in government who has displayed a truly appalling ignorance of the issues America faces, the operation of our legal system and the current world situation.
And of course, I need not remind readers of this blog that the current front-runner for the Republican nomination is Donald Trump, who–in addition to sharing all of Carson’s deficiencies–is so monumentally narcissistic and un-self-aware that he is a walking joke.
Here’s the thing: none of us–including Ben Carson and Donald Trump–would hire someone to do a job who lacked any relevant experience, training or basic understanding of the most rudimentary requirements of the position. So why do so many Americans consider ignorance of how government works a virtue, and why do so many candidates seem to think that parading that ignorance should win them votes?
I teach in a school of public affairs. One of the majors we offer is public management–a course of study intended to prepare people for public sector positions. The skills we teach as essential for even entry-level bureaucrats include public finance (which–surprise!–is considerably different from balancing your checkbook), statistical analysis, the ways in which law constrains public policy, the effects of globalization, the operation of the policy process…the list goes on.
Like it or not, we live in a complicated world. Americans expect government to protect us from terrorists and e coli, to regulate utilities, to administer social insurance programs, to encourage economic development, to ensure that our air is breathable and our water drinkable, to prevent economic monopolies, to control air traffic, to wage our wars, to educate our children, to pave our streets and highways, and much more. Most of those functions require specialized expertise, and managing the public servants and contractors who provide these services is no small task.
Running a city, a state or a country is not a job for amateurs, or for people who have only the dimmest understanding of the myriad foreign and domestic challenges the nation faces on a daily basis, and the often difficult and surprising interrelationships among them.
It isn’t brain surgery–and the ability to do brain surgery, or to star in a television reality show, doesn’t make someone even remotely competent to run a country in the 21st Century.