Saturday, April 09, 2011

No Lifers

Watching the Ivory Coast tear itself apart because a long-time president refuses to accept defeat in a UN-certified election, reinforces all the more my conviction that all public officials are should be regarded as dispensable. Leaders claiming their indispensability to the nation (substitute or add: national security/economy/Party/Revolution) are invariably dangerous because they ultimately substitute the their own interest for the broader popular will. That they may begin as popularly elected leaders makes them no less dangerous. After years in office, they will conflate their own interests with the public interest, often at some detriment to the latter. Their combination of self/party with state authority and institutions can sustain their control.

Sometimes for a great while. Stalin dominated the Soviet Union in life for 26 years and almost four decades after his death. The Castros are only ten years shy of Stalin's mark and the military dictatorship in ruled Burma is not far behind them. Our Man in Egypt, Hosni Mubarak, had 30 years and even now his party and institutions are largely intact. The recalcitrant Ivorian president has only been in for 10 years. Hugo Chavez has been in office maybe 15, well beyond the constitutional limit that he circumvented. None of these extended autocracies are good for their nations. Sooner or later extended incumbency isolates a leader from the daily reality of the nation. That's never good.

The best advice on political change I've seen was a letter to the Arizona Republic from Edward Abbey about the 1982 Arizona governor's race, a three-way contest which he described as a "choice between Tweedledum, Tweedledee and Tweedledo. In such cases I always vote against the incumbent. Keep the rascals rotating. The only thing worse than an incumbent is an entrenched incumbent."(*)

Especially executive incumbents. Legislative incumbents may be equally removed from reality but they are far less dangerous. The Framers of the Constitution knew this. That is why the Constitution vests all real authority in the legislative branch.

(*) I won't claim this to be the word-for-word quote but it's close enough to cite. The 1982 election was my first in Arizona--I moved there in the spring of the year. Abbey's letter was fiendishly accurate and is well remembered from that time.



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