When it’s time for your annual job review at work and your boss rates you “competent” that’s not a time for celebration. A “competent” rating means you won’t be fired, but you probably won’t be getting a raise or promotion either.
A competent performance is indeed a low bar…everywhere but in politics where it appears beyond reach. No wonder only about 25 percent of voters think government can solve problems.
As we approach another election year, demonstrating to voters that you are at least competent to govern will be a challenge.
Thanks to Donald Trump, chaos replaced competence and nonsense drowned out common sense. Disinformation and distrust locked up the levers of power.
Government failed the competency standard by failing to fix roads and bridges (remember how many times Trump proclaimed Infrastructure Week), improve health care instead of dismantling it, act on climate change instead of ignoring it and crafting a serious, comprehensive immigration plan.
Jon Tester is a three-term senator from Montana. He’s a Democrat in a state Trump won by 20 percentage points. Last week he addressed competence.
“The American people expect their government to work,” said Tester, a farmer and former music teacher. “There’s a pile of bills that have come through the House that are piling up in the Senate. We could have been doing a lot of these bipartisan bills…no brainers. But we haven’t. McConnell hasn’t brought them up. Let’s do a little deliberating and let’s do a little debating. Why is he holding them up? You got me.”
He’s talking about some 400 bills, 275 of them nonpartisan, passed by the Democrat-controlled House that are piled on Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s desk while he’s busy getting marginally competent, right-wing federal judges confirmed.
A competent leader needs more than a catchy slogan.
Trump won the White House by riling up voters’ fear, anger and sense of grievance with effective marketing. Thanks to catchy slogans, he captured just enough electoral votes.
“Build the Wall,” is not an immigration strategy. Instead of a plan, Trump offered technology that became obsolete in the 16th century to solve a 21st century problem.
“Drain the Swamp” doesn’t mean appointing, and then firing, a record number of ethically challenged officials.
He’s staked his re-election on a robust economy. But while overall growth has been solid, the areas of weakness have come precisely in those things Trump tried to stimulate. Trump’s only major legislative accomplishment was a huge tax cut for corporations that was supposed to lead to a surge in investment. Instead, corporations pocketed the money, and business investment fell. His trade war was supposed to shrink the trade deficit and revive U.S. manufacturing. But the trade deficit widened and manufacturing shrank.
Trump’s challengers aren’t doing much better. Medicare for All, Free College Tuition and College Loan Forgiveness are not policies to meet the low bar of competent government.
Presidential candidate Sen. Amy Klobuchar argued in last month’s debate against these attractive promises.
“I’m not going to go for things just because they sound good on a bumper sticker and then throw in a free car,” she said.
If elected, can she govern? Here’s the record: Klobuchar passed more legislation than any other senator by the end of the 114th Congress in late 2016. As of Dec. 16, 2018, she had sponsored or co-sponsored 111 pieces of legislation that became law.
Joe Biden continues to lead other Democrats for the nomination. Former Time magazine editor Nancy Gibbs writes in the Washington Post that Biden’s slogan appears to be “Pick me and I’ll leave you alone while I fix stuff.”
That’s a nice way of saying let’s have competence over chaos.
Along with Klobuchar, another so-called second-tier candidate is Colorado Sen. Mike Bennet. Bennet is a former Denver school superintendent who grew enrollment, decreased dropout rates, and improved graduation rates and college enrollment.
Conservative columnist George Will credited him with “the most charming, the most adult campaign promise this season.”
“If you elect me president, I promise you won’t have to think about me for two weeks at a time,” Bennet said.
It’s not a great bumper sticker. But Bennet, along with Tester, Klobuchar and Biden, know that governing is not about red hats and red-meat slogans.