If you have ever donated to a Colorado political campaign, Democratic or Republican, and you still have a landline telephone, then your enjoyment of the recently concluded London Olympics was almost surely interrupted by frequent calls from money-grubbing candidates. It’s useful that our elections and the Olympic games coincide every four years. They serve as a reminder of what can be achieved through sheer determination, commitment, hard work and nearly super-human effort. While largely a showcase for the vigor of youth, the equestrian, archery, shooting and sailing events demonstrated that there remains a place for skills honed through endless practice. The oldest gold medal winner was a mature 56 years young.
It is estimated that the parents of an American Olympian, on average, have devoted a quarter of a million dollars and 10,000 hours in support of their offspring — while the athletes, themselves, have turned their lives over to a regimen of endless training in pursuit of perfection. The dedication required for their success is little short of stunning, and the payoff, for all but a handful, is simply a piece of metal that will collect dust in a drawer along with their memories. But, they do it anyway, largely because of their abiding faith in their own abilities — train, compete, improve and compete again! They deservedly earn our admiration.
What of our politicians? How many of them have carefully prepared to serve us in public office? What do they know of our history or the structure of democratic governance, about economic theory or social responsibility? Can they articulate a coherent agenda, much less priorities, for the separation of powers, the financing of public goods or the protection of public safety? Does their political philosophy extend beyond mere sloganeering — of either a liberal or conservative bent? Sadly, our political parties no longer screen for such competencies.
Democracy is almost intrinsically prone to the seductions of demagogues — of errant enthusiasms for those who will tell us what we wish to hear and believe. This produces the paradox of allegedly small government conservatives who see no contradiction in legislating the personal reproductive behavior of women or restricting who, when and how we can vote; as well as the self-proclaimed, liberal champions of working families, like would-be Colorado House Speaker Mark Ferrandino, who cheerfully gutted civil service protections for state employees. With no referees blowing the whistle on fouls, voters rarely punish these inconsistencies.
We are all responsible to some extent for the fact there is so little gold medal talent aspiring to serve in public office. With few exceptions copper, tin and brass more accurately capture the quality of choices we confront when entering the polling booth. This is no secret to those who are active in either party, those actually aware of who is representing them in the Legislature, on City Council or at the School Board. Rarely is this much more than ten percent of voters. Democracy is premised on the notion of an informed and involved electorate — knowledgeable citizens acting together to shape their collective future. When the management of our commonwealth is delivered into the hands of zealots, both our wealth and our common destiny are placed at peril.
Perhaps there is no longer an audience for the thoughtful, reasoned debate of public issues. The role of the daily press, as an impartial monitor and guar-dian against policy excess, is rapidly evaporating as bloggers, cable yakkers and partisan websites elbow it aside. Daily newspapers are shrinking and may soon disappear entirely before we successfully replace them with a bal-anced and respected alternative. Noth-ing would suit many of our candidates more than the ease of competing from the depths of an informational black hole, illuminated by little more than occasional flashes of heated rhetoric.
Columnist Miller Hudson is a former politician and Olympian in his scope of knowledge about local and state politics.