We need some qualified public leaders
It strikes me that many of the problems we run into on a daily basis are caused by people doing a job for which they are not fully qualified. At the top of the list, I’m afraid we must place those we elect to office and those they appoint to government service positions.
We have all run across the bad restaurant meal: a cook who wasn’t so good; an owner who didn’t get fresh ingredients; a wait person who ruined the meal with bad service.
How about the salesperson who knows absolutely nothing about what he or she is selling? Getting parts to repair broken farm machinery is always a challenge. Most of the time the parts person has never operated the machine, nor does he have a clue concerning what the broken part in question does. It’s pretty frustrating.
Then there are the USDA employees who administer farm programs at the local level. Often they are very book-smart folks, but, sometimes they are not so experienced at farming. If you run a small farm like me, dealing with USDA can be even more frustrating because farms are supposed to be big and — what the USDA, the media, and, the general powers that be — would call “efficient.” Since small farms, especially organic farms, don’t fit into the USDA ideal, we are generally written off as rather dim-witted, latter-day dinosaurs that are doomed and waiting to die.
Most of the machinery on our farm is quite old and outdated, but it does its job. While the engineers that designed it knew their jobs, many of them didn’t know much about mine. If all those engineers designing all that farm machinery had grown up on a farm, they would know that operating the machinery is the easy part. Keeping it running, now that takes some talent.
Wouldn’t it be great if those engineers had memories of all the expletives uttered by their fathers as they skinned their knuckles, pinched their fingers, and smashed their thumbs trying to fix those marvelous yet owner-unfriendly machines? Farm kids would design machinery that is easy to fix, easy to grease and always worked as promised!
I am sure there are former farm kids designing machinery, but, apparently, not very many. I would feel much better if engineers had experience trying to fix a hay baler when it’s 100 degrees in the shade and you have a thousand bales of hay to get in and rain is on the way. (Bill Clinton used to say, “I feel your pain” but did he really?) It would also be very comforting to me if, at some point in his life, the engineer had tried to snake his arm up between belts, chains and layers of itchy dust to get grease to a bearing that only someone with a double-jointed, four-foot long arm could reach. It might cause them to put in a bit more time on the drawing board.
But that is not the way things work, certainly not in farming, and certainly not in politics.
Politics, ah politics, what a situation. We have elected and appointed officials who sometimes are anything but qualified for their jobs. “Heck of a job, Brownie” will forever be the poster child of government appointee ineptitude.
So how do inept people get elected or appointed? Money seems to help. Big campaign contributions generally pay off. Washington must be crawling with Bush’s big contributing “Pioneers.” Appearance counts too, not too rich, but certainly not poor. White men are certainly more acceptable than women or minorities, and this year we found out pantsuits are trouble. It seems being a lawyer is a really good qualification even though most people say they don’t trust lawyers. People who have been around awhile (insiders) have experience, but are attacked for being insiders. Those who exist outside the beltway are not insiders, but they lack experience. So being an insider or an outsider is good or bad, depending on which one you are.
As a farmer I get frustrated with politicians, appointees and government service employees who have no knowledge of farming, but still get to run my life. I suspect teachers, for example, have similar frustrations. People who have not been in a classroom since they left college are setting the curriculum for the education of our children and not doing so well. Welcome to “No Child Left Behind.”
In the big picture, perhaps the heart of the problem is money. Most of the world is poor, yet the people who run it are rich. Most of them have never known poverty, or anything close to being low-income. Those who have worked their way up from low or middle income to a place of power either join the club as in Orwell’s Animal Farm, or they get marginalized and leave in frustration because they refuse to follow the status quo.
Clearly, as one moves from the local, to the state, to the federal government, those in power seem to become increasingly more detached from the lives and problems of the people they supposedly work for. World leaders, at times, seem hopelessly out of touch with reality, at least the reality of most people.
In a recent op-ed, I wrote that it would be nice if the leaders of the industrialized world had some sense of what it might be like to be hungry. Perhaps if they understood what it was like to be unable to afford to buy food? Perhaps if the elected officials of the world had experienced poverty in their lives, had worked in community service, joined the Peace Corps, or even protested in a “Free Speech Area”? Wouldn’t that give them a little needed perspective?
Apparently, most politicians have no concept of living in the real world, or at least if they ever did it has long since been displaced by memories of travel junkets, golf outings, and chauffeured limousines. In this country, and I suspect a large part of the world, you get elected if you have money, if you can be “sold” as being blue collar (even if you can’t remember how many houses you own), and if you have a good public relations firm.
What of the small picture? Government officials who don’t know farming or food production could hardly be expected to understand the world food crisis. Would having some concept of growing food and caring for livestock make for better government? I like to believe it would.
Our current president likes to think of himself as a cowboy and he’s not the first to try and identify with hard working common people. The question I would have for him, and all those other phonies, is one a friend of mine used to ask: “Have you ever rassel’d a steer down and given it an aspirin with a balling gun?” We have, we’re the real cowboys.
So don’t tell us you understand what we are going through or that you feel our pain when you don’t. Don’t cry crocodile tears for the poor when you have no intention of reducing poverty. Don’t appoint bumbling political hacks to do a job for which they have no credentials.
We deserve nothing less than elected officials and political appointees who understand what it is like to live in the economy we are forced to live in on the incomes you force us to accept. You don’t know us, you don’t know our lives, so don’t patronize us. As Arundatti Roy said, “We be many and they be few.” Empires eventually fall.
Get Grist in your inbox