System a catch-22 for good politicians

Hulk Hogan has entered the ring. Last week, this stalwart of professional wrestling announced his presidential candidacy. America responded to the news by rolling its eyes, sarcastically thanking Minnesota and surmising that at least this might make the election a little more entertaining. The nation’s reaction is perfectly reasonable.

The possibility of a President Hogan is little more than a windfall for late-night comedians.

What is troubling is that the nation increasingly not only tolerates, but welcomes, such frivolous distractions in its political system. The Hulk may be a joke, but his candidacy highlights America’s disenchantment with the stagnant political scene. A sideshow is only necessary when the main stage has nothing to offer.

The politician who invigorates a constituency with an inspired and ambitious platform is a dwindling species, all but extinct from the higher echelons of elected office.

We have no great American leaders. When election time comes, it is likely that votes will be used against the most unsavory candidate, rather than in favor of a candidate who has earned the people’s support.

Is mediocrity the most America can hope for in the executive office? When I consider recent presidential contenders and those waiting in the wings, I can’t help but wonder: Is this really the best America has to offer?

Individuals who would make great, invigorating leaders do exist. Somewhere, there must be a few capable people, possessing the charisma, integrity and intelligence needed to lead. But such individuals, by definition, would find the current political scene too repugnant to ever consider wading through the mire of an election campaign. It’s a political paradox, a catch-22. We will never have a great man as president because no one with any sense or dignity would want the job. If any promising candidate were to seek the office, the path to the presidency is inevitably corrupting.

Much of the blame for this situation can be placed on the campaigning process.

The traditional route to higher office is a gradual ascent up the ladder of elected positions.

This being the case, the typical presidential candidate is a consummate campaigner. By the very nature of American electioneering, this individual will have spent more time running for office than serving it.

American democracy is hyperactive when compared to the world’s other liberal nations. For example, the two-year term of our representatives is inordinately short. A more significant contributor to the campaign glut is our system of primary elections; no other democracy has them.

I am not making a judgment against the electoral procedures dictated by the Founding Fathers. I am simply pointing out that, for better or worse, certain features of our government only aggravate the frenzied state of political campaigning.

In this hyperactive democracy, a candidate must vigilantly track the prevailing political climate and be willing to adjust his views to gain the necessary votes.

After years of pandering, waffling and deal making, it is not surprising that most career politicians have about as much vigor and integrity as a puddle of soupy vanilla ice cream.

In addition to forsaking any semblance of an intellectual or ideological backbone, the candidate must also sell his soul, in shares, to a wide array of campaign contributors, special interest groups and the like. Indeed, both Dole and Clinton have come under fire for outrageous campaign fundraising abuses in the ’96 election. The ludicrous expense of running a successful race turns politicians into wily salesmen. Caveat emptor.

But I don’t need to spell out all the unsavory consequences of the campaign process. America is well aware of this dismal political reality and, consequently, is growing ever more weary of the whole system. Dwindling election turnouts are the most startling indicator of pervasive voter apathy. Increasingly, a sideshow is the only thing that will draw the nation’s attention to Washington.

Now, back to the Hulk. If marathon campaigns are necessary to achieve the backing, stature and name recognition necessary to be a presidential contender, individuals who already possess these things have an immeasurable advantage.

The rich and the famous can legitimately compete in the political sphere, regardless of experience or ability. Already, we have seen Ross Perot and Steve Forbes buy their way into presidential races.

While Hogan is too cartoonish a character to be taken seriously, he may be a harbinger of the new celebrity politician who gets his names in lights outside the Beltway before diving headfirst into Washington’s highest arenas.

In fact, Hogan wasn’t the only celebrity talking about the 2000 election last week. Ted Turner told The New Yorker he was serious about a possible bid for the Oval Office. Does he have any chance? Well, he has the money and the name… and he doesn’t even wear tights. America needs some real leaders. Unfortunately, leadership qualities are antithetical to the skills requisite for achieving elective office. Yossarian was right; that’s some catch, that catch-22.

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