Carl Ostrom: Questions we should ask our politicians
My name is Carl Ostrom. I have been living in the Grass Valley/Nevada City area for over 40 years. I was drawn here to work at the Grass Valley Group because it felt like working in a mountain resort. When I left The Group to start my own business, both my wife and I decided that we could not leave here.
This is the best place we have lived, and we love it here.
My political needle is not pegged on either the right or left side. I see politics in a different light than most. I am not a political pundit with an agenda. I am a curious observer.
In my career, it has been my function to look at the global scope of a project and define how all the pieces fit and function together. That is how I view the political arena. I am not so much focused on specific policies as much as looking at how government and society interact. I will be presenting a number of articles over the next few months that raise some questions for politicians and ourselves that arise from this perspective.
This is the first in a number of monthly articles focused on creating a parallel dialogue in political campaigns that is focused more on governance in general than specific policies.
There is no new news as to which policies either conservative or liberal politicians will support. So the bulk of the current campaign dialogue is about character assassination and how the world will come to an end if the other candidate is elected.
I am not so naïve as to expect to end, or even reduce, the rancor and vilification. Since the voting public is influenced by that type of campaigning, it won’t end anytime soon. The purpose of these articles is to encourage a parallel dialog based on questions that focus on governance and broader topics.
This is a nonpartisan exercise that has no agenda other than providing a broader basis on which to evaluate the fundamental perspectives that influence each candidate.
The focus of these articles is on the questions and not the answers. The questions are not meant to be leading questions that influence a predetermined answer, but general questions about governance and open topics. As an example, the primary question should be, “What is the purpose of government?” The answer to this question provides a foundation for how the candidate will view all other issues.
What is really happening in a campaign is a job interview. The candidate is applying for a job with the public. That stated, the public should be driving the process, not the candidate. Is the public interviewing their boss or their employee? It would be good to know which side of this question the candidate stands.
If we agree that this is a job interview, what questions we ask will be the only visibility we have into how the candidate thinks and might respond to new issues. Does the candidate understand the job description?
There is much more to the job of politics than just voting on hot issues, namely running a country, state, or local jurisdiction and providing leadership to the service entities within that jurisdiction. Does the candidate even know how to manage a budget or government infrastructure, or do they just expect the system to run itself or follow the rule of their party bosses? Do they understand the ramifications, long and short term, of their decisions on the function of government or on the lives of the public at large? Do they perceive themselves to work for their constituents or party bosses?
As we, the manager, interview the candidate, do we understand the job description?
While this dialogue is intended to solicit responses from political candidates, an equal, and maybe more important, element is a self evaluation of how we the public respond to many of the same questions. Do we really understand the ramifications and long term effects of our requests of government? Do we understand how some of our desires and choices impact other aspects of our lives? Do we understand how some of our desires and choices impact the lives of others living in different circumstances than ours? Do we feel a responsibility to understand all of this, or do we just choose someone who supports our hot issues and trust them to sort out all of the messy or mundane stuff?
The last six months have been a good example of this. It appears that both sides of the aisle were not equipped to mange a nationwide crisis that pitted the loss of over 100,000 lives, millions severely ill, and the swamping of hospital ICUs against the loss of millions of jobs and families and small businesses in financial crisis, some in ruin. Did we, the public, give any thought as to whether the people we elected could manage such a crisis?
The test of leadership will be graded on whether our representatives will admit that their response was less than perfect, and be willing to sit down and learn from each other, or will they continue to point fingers and try to blame everyone else for their lack of preparation and errors in judgment?
The democratic process works best when the voters are informed, engaged, and diligent in selecting the representatives they choose to carry out the will of the people.
It is my goal that through this series of articles we will explore and discover a new model of candidate evaluation and self awareness.
In the next article we will start to explore a number of questions that follow this model.
Carl Ostrom lives in Nevada County.
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