May 10, 2023

Impossible Standards for Political Candidates

The vicious nature of major political election contests today is creating a dangerous pathology for American democracy - the expectation of a record of infallibility in our candidates for public office. This qualification is not only unrealistic and unattainable, but even if it were it would not be a characteristic that I would want my own representative or leader to necessarily have.

Good leaders make mistakes, and great ones have often made numerous wrong turns over the course of their lives and careers. Talk to any highly successful venture capitalist about this and you will surely hear from most that failure at one or even several points in one’s life can actually be an asset, sometimes even a criterion, in the quest to earn their respect, and ultimately their funding.

They key is what you do as a result of bombing. Do you get discouraged and never take risks again? Do you make the same mistakes again, not having learned anything from the previous crash and burn? Or do you wise up and become a better person and a better leader and decision maker as a result?

Pundits and even ordinary Americans love to find any obscure statement or mistake that a candidate has made in the past - or even one that his or her staff or associates has made - and hold it against that candidate in a consequential political contest. But I want neither my local leaders nor the leader of the free world to have never made a mistake. In all likelihood, such a scenario would be the result of luck rather than skill, leaving the person in question quite delusional in the end.

We need to bring back some honesty and integrity not only to political offices, but also to the political process. One way to start doing that is to stop holding candidates to impossible standards, and to analyze past mistakes in the context of subsequent patterns of behavior and accomplishment.


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