Wednesday, October 10, 2007


I have long held that our last good president was the other George W... George Washington. The reason he was our last good president is that he was the last one who didn't really want the job.

Political ambition ought rightly to be seen as a pathological condition, blinding its subject and preventing him from making clear and unbiased decisions. Anyone so afflicted should therefore be excused from the responsibilities of holding any public office. Perversely, our present system of democracy virtually assures that all who hold office will be infested with political ambition, else they would never endure the rigors of campaigning and of selling themselves to voters.

The solution? Instead of the exclusive profession of a few twisted souls, the holding of public office ought to be a duty incumbent upon all citizens, like jury duty is right now. The names of all eligible voters would be stored in a database, and a name selected at random for each office. dice If your name is drawn, you must serve, whether you want to or not. When your term is served, you are exempt from further service, and may return to your chosen life. Many offices could be performed as part-time employment, with minimal impact upon the office-holder's real job. The compensation would be kept modest, to underscore that this is a civic duty, and to further discourage political ambition.

This method would populate our government with homemakers, plumbers, teachers, farmers, programmers, and the like. Some with political ambition would still be randomly selected, but their relatively small numbers amongst the sane majority would be tolerable. A modified version might be to randomly select three names for each office, giving each candidate 15 minutes of prime time to present himself, then hold the election, all within a space of a few days. This would allow voters to weed out the most extreme nutcases, while still handing the reins to non-politicians, and avoiding the perversity of political campaigns.

I cannot take full credit for this idea. It was first proposed by Harry Reasoner, 35 or 40 years ago, in one of the original broadcasts of "60 Minutes", when he did the commentary spot. I think Harry proposed the idea with tongue firmly in cheek. As a young man at the time, I immediately saw that, whatever Harry's intention, it was an excellent idea. (Remember: when Benjamin Franklin first proposed the Daylight Saving idea in his Poor Richard's Almanac, he likewise did so with a figurative wink of the eye.)

I'm not sure how this relates to randomocracy as recently proposed in British Columbia.

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