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There’s No Simple Way To Choose a Leader

Justin Trudeau is not fit to be Prime Minister. I know this because I read it every day somewhere in the mainstream or social media. The reasons are varied and many but two key factors get mentioned more than any other; he was a teacher and he inherited some money from his father.

I’ve been voting in elections for more years than I care to acknowledge and I haven’t always been successful at voting for the best candidate so I’m always open to anything that will better help me evaluate those running for office.

Quite honestly,  it had just never occurred to me that former professions or family inheritances were factors worth considering; if it had, I would have dismissed Rob Ford as unqualified for his political office because he inherited a fairly hefty chunk of change from his father and didn’t do much before taking a job in sales at his father’s company,

Foolishly,  I thought he was unqualified because he is a self-indulgent buffoon.

Still, so many seem to be focused on Justin Trudeau’s former profession that I thought they might be on to something and that I should consider taking the time to do a little casual research about the link between politicians and how they earned their living before taxpayers started picking up the tab. I thought that if I could establish some kind of pattern with the surety that so many anti-Trudeau critics have, I would enjoy the same benefit as they. I would no longer have to consider things like a candidate’s actions, character or political platform before casting my ballot and that would save a lot of wear and tear on the soul; not to mention quite a bit of time.

It is very time consuming reading all the campaign literature, attending debates and reading party and candidate platforms on their respective web sites..

My research was somewhat casual in that I didn’t establish precise criteria or methodology. I am trained for that but I was – well – procrastinating, at least a bit. I just basically read the bios of a cluster (or is it a clutter) of politicians to find out what they did before they were elected. I paired that with how successful they were as politicians (in my purely subjective opinion) and thought that would be sufficient to establish a cause and affect link between former professions and political office.

Aside from reconfirming for me that most politicians who were lawyers before they were first elected turned out to be those who were frequently the least effective and often had an integrity shortfall, my research didn’t give me the easy candidate selection process for which I had hoped.

Barack Obama was a lawyer, an activist and a professor before taking the oath of office. That’s like three strikes against you right there.

Margaret Thatcher, who was a politician I greatly admired, was a research chemist before entering politics and eventually becoming the longest serving British Prime Minister of the 20th century. Germany’s Angela Merkel was also a chemist which might explain why she’s done a fairly competent job. Unfortunately, you don’t see many research chemists running for public office which may explain a lot about the caliber of our government leaders these days.

Maybe there’s some truth to the slogan, “better living through science.”

When I looked at teachers who became politicians, I discovered that three U.S. presidents including Lyndon Johnson were formerly teachers. Former Conservative Ontario Premier Mike Harris was an elementary school teacher before becoming a politician and former Canadian Conservative Prime Minister Kim Campbell was a university professor among other things.

That seemed somewhat inconclusive, however,  some of those folks turned out to be duds while others were quite successful so I knew I would have to continue my research in attempt to draw some of the same, easy conclusions of so many chattering online.

I decided to look at farming.

Five American presidents were farmers in their earlier lives including John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Harry Truman, Jimmy Carter and James Madison. In Canada we had Eugene Whelan and Wayne Easter, just to mention a couple.  Depending on your politics, You can decide for yourself how successful farming was at pre-qualifying someone for for high office.

Other professions that threw up (not to be confused with vomited) political leaders included acting, journalism and professional sports.

Ronald Regan, Fred Thompson, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jesse Ventura and Sonny Bono were all in show business before entering politics. Regan was the 40th president, Schwarzenegger and Ventura were both state governors, Thompson a federal senator and Bono sat in the House of Representatives.

British actress Glenda Jackson became a Member of the British Parliament in 1992. She served as Junior Transport Minister under former Prime Minister Tony Blair (well, not literally of course that would be scandalous and the Queen would definitely not approve). Ms Jackson announced in 2011 that she would not run in the next election.

From the world of sports came people like J.C. Watts who played football both here in Canada and in the United States. He is now a member of the U.S. House of Representatives. Others include Steve Largent (football), Bill Bradley (basketball), Jim Bunning (baseball), Jack Kemp (football).

Jesse Ventura and Arnold Schwarzenegger were double threats. Not only were they both actors but Ventura is a former professional wrestler and Schwarzenegger a former professional body builder.

From the august field of Journalism have come such notables as Warren Harding the 29th American President, former Canadian Environment Minister Peter Kent and Joey Smallwood. the first Premier of the Canadian province of Newfoundland and Canada’s last Father of Confederation. Other former journalists turned politicians included  Garth Turner amd Ralph Klein

Journalism also gave us Senator Mike Duffy but I like to think of him as an aberration that has more in common with what lawyers have brought to politics than journalists. I’m fairly confident that most journalists would prefer to think that as well. Certainly he is getting a legal education these days that any law student would envy.

Even the clergy coughed up a few politicians including Ernesto Cardenal (Nicaragua), William Aberhart (Alberta Canada), Timothy Beaumont (Great Britain), Beda Weber (Germany), John Bull (United States)

Interestingly, despite the fact that our political leaders tinker with our economies more than just about everything else, I didn’t find any with much practical experience as economists before jumping into politics. Canada’s Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, does have a degree in economics but his only pre-political career experience was working in the mail room and briefly the accounting department of a petroleum company.

This list is by no means exhaustive although I found it exhausting reading all those bios but it does illustrate that previous work-experience doesn’t seem to have much connection to future political competence. No individual profession or work experience seem to offer better politicians than any other although the legal profession seems to provide more who skirt the edges of ethics and principle.

Politicians come in all shapes and sizes and from pretty much all areas of life. They were formerly farmers, teachers, engineers, lawyers, astronauts, political activists, journalists, professional athletes, actors, scientists, clergy, military, real estate agents, union leaders, social workers, slave owners, insurance agents and even porn stars.

Italy’s Ilona Staller, better known to porn aficionados as Ciccolina, was elected to the Italian Parliament in 1987. Originally a member of the Green Party, she was subsequently elected under the Libertarian banner. Her most notable contribution was her offer to have sex with Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein in return for peace in the region.

As policy proposals go, it wasn’t effective at avoiding war in Iraq but it definitely showed some creative out of the box (so to speak) thinking.

The fact that someone has business experience doesn’t seem to cut much ice either. One really doesn’t have to look much farther than Rob and Doug Ford to confirm that but they aren’t the only examples. Former Ottawa Mayor Larry O’Brien was and continues to be a very successful business person and is a nice guy but he was a dud as mayor.

In the end, it seems to come down to the fact that former professional experience is not a very good predictor of future political efficacy despite the constant blather about Justin Trudeau’s teaching career by the simple-minded.

I believe that selecting who should represent us is never going to be easy and it will never come with guarantees that who we select will do an effective job. I tend to think  that character, integrity, political vision and philosophy are better things to evaluate when considering for whom to vote.

Of course, that requires thought and it is just so much easier for many to fall back on simple-minded ideas like linking future ability to former professions.

I think we might have a better opportunity to select better candidates if we stopped allowing the thoughtless and hyper-partisans to dominate the debate with trivial nonsense and focused instead on a politician’s platforms and performance.

That won’t be easy, of course; these days it seems to be that those with the least to say speak the loudest and most often.

If I were to use their own simplistic standard of evaluation I might be forced to conclude that they were teachers before they became idiots.


© 2014 Maggie’s Bear

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Twitter: @maggsbear – Facebook: Maggie’s Bear  – ivmaki@sympatico.ca


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  • bertie

    You nailed it with your last line.

  • Gramma Barb

    Darn!……you busted my balloon!!!…….geesh!……..by chance do you think ‘Hurricane Hazel’ will throw her hat into the ring?
    I sure could vote for THAT lady!……….other than that, I am amiss on just ‘who’!

    • MaggiesBear

      I’m holding out for someone like Ciccolina. That would certainly spice up Question Period.

      • Gramma Barb

        well, thank goodness for google…..I didn’t know who Ciccolina was!……spice QP up…they would be so rattled all the ‘bills’ would be passed with a zing! and without ‘comment!’…….this lady certainly has many attributes to her credit…….But….my choice would still be Hazel……….lol!!