Running things

Sam Smith, 2006 – Kind reader William Davidson writes to ask, “Sam, I want to know why we can not get you to be the president.” Your editor tries to soft–pedal the many nice notes he receives but this one is so excessive it deserves some sort of response.

In fact, I reached the pinnacle of my political career when I was elected a neighborhood commissioner. One term of this remarkably complex task sated all further political ambition. My problem, I slowly discovered over the years, was that while I have, run, or helped to run, such varied things as a Coast Guard vessel, radio station, political organizations, a band and an alternative agriculture center, I didn’t really enjoy the running part all that much. It seems that the more power you have, the more removed you become from what attracted you in the first place. I also found myself enjoying groups and places where no one seemed to be running things because everyone was.

My father liked running things along the principles set forth in Winnie the Pooh: “It was just the day for Organizing Something, or for Writing a Notice Signed Rabbit, or for Seeing What Everybody Else Thought About It..” My mother, however, took an aptitude test that told her she was not likely to do well on boards and committees. She came home and immediately resigned from all of them. I have tried to take a more moderate position, which is to say that I join new boards doing something worthwhile but typically only to the point when they discover they don’t have a personnel committee, a sure sign that they are getting too bureaucratic for my tastes.

The serious part of this ramble is that I suspect that there are many people like myself who could do a halfway decent job (thereby busting the curve) in politics or other places of power but avoid them out of ADD: ambition deficit disorder.

The guy who used to print the Review insisted that politicians should only be allowed one term and only one office during a lifetime. This idea fit well with one I have suggested, namely that each legislative body have a certain number of members picked by lot in order to provide a living benchmark. Perhaps, for starters we could have a separate house of Congress for lottery winners and short-timers: the Recalcitrant Branch. Our role model would be Cincinnatus who served as dictator just long enough to defeat the Aequi – it took 16 days – and then returned to his farm where the really serious work remained unfinished. Another model would be Benjamin Franklin who believed one should never seek nor refuse a public position.

I do occasionally have the fantasy that I would make an excellent post-revolutionary leader – the sort of guy who could cool things off, get the various factions working together, and move from armed critique to placid programs. The problem with this fantasy is that I would have had to have also been a revolutionary leader to get the job in the first place, something at which I would have been terrible. Further, a dissident faction would quickly discover my ambivalence towards power and remove me from office either by election or by coup and/or sudden death. At which point I quit my day dreaming and return to my true love, writing.

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