Let's say you're interviewing someone for a job, and you notice a lack of relevant experience on his resume. When you ask him about it, he says, "This place is too constrained by the old way of doing things. I've never done anything like this job -- in fact, I haven't even worked in this industry before. I know virtually nothing about it. Wouldn't I be a breath of fresh air?" You'd probably say, "Well sir, you may be right about the problem with the old way of doing things. But good luck in your job search, because you won't be working here."
Yet we hear that from candidates all the time. The latest is Rand Paul, who is running for a Senate seat in Kentucky. On Sunday he told The New York Times, "I tell people that my biggest attribute is having not held public office, which is a great attribute to possess. I think people are looking for regular citizens."
If that's his "biggest attribute," then he doesn't have much going for him. Why shouldn't we elect the guy standing on the corner in an Uncle Sam outfit trying to get people to come to the used car dealer's blowout spring sale? He's never held public office! Or how about my mom's hairdresser? She's never held public office either! According to Paul, virtually any citizen of the state of Kentucky, with the exception of a few hundred who have actually worked as public officials, is just as qualified as he is to be their next United States senator.
Candidates for office make ridiculous claims all the time -- high on my list of the most absurd is the idea that one freshman member of the legislature is going to "change the way they do things in Washington" (or Sacramento, or Tallahassee, or Albany) and "shake up the system." That never happens, but at least it's something one might hope for. But isn't it about time we questioned the idea that being successful in politics is all about the purity of your heart and has nothing to do with knowledge or competence?
-- Paul Waldman
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