I think we lost the election on November 2. Every race was won by a politician. True, we elected some angry nuts. These are preferable to common politicians. Their anger provokes honesty, and their mental illness prevents honesty from being obscured by charm. (What a loss -Barney Frank would have been as an exemplar of the furious, insane left!) We also elected some amateur politicians. However, politics is like vivisection—disturbing as a career, alarming as a hobby. And we may have elected a few reluctant politicians. But not reluctant enough.
We will win an election when all the seats in the House and Senate and the chair behind the desk in the Oval Office and the whole bench of the Supreme Court are filled with people who wish they weren’t there.
In a free country government is a dull and onerous responsibility. It is a parent-teacher conference. The teacher is a pompous twit. Our child is a lazy pain in the ass. We undertake this social obligation with weary reluctance. And we only do it at all because the teacher (political authority) deserves cold stares, hard questions, and maybe firing, and the pupil (that portion of society which, alas, needs governing) deserves to be grounded without TV and have its Internet access screened and its allowance docked.
America’s elected and appointed officials ought to be longing to return to their personal lives and private interests. They should feel burdened by their powers, irked with their responsibilities, and embarrassed at their prominence in the public eye. When they say they want to spend more time with their families, they should mean it.
But how do we obtain this cadre of worthy citizens fidgeting unhappily in their honors and dignities? Given that politics is like war even more than it’s like vivisection, we could draft them. In World War II this worked out well. Randomly selected young and fit members of the Greatest Generation performed their duties admirably. Then again, in Vietnam, with the members of the following Notsohotso Generation, this didn’t work out well. Or, rather, it worked out well for the North Vietnamese.
Maybe we could use our state lotteries. These are popular. The big winner would get millions of dollars for picking the right member, and the big loser would get a Senate seat for picking the wrong one. But people who play the lottery aren’t notable for their math skills. As Fran Lebowitz said, “The probability of winning the lottery is the same whether you buy a ticket or not.” We face enormous federal debts and deficits. In Washington the innumerate are already in charge. Do we want more of them?
In fact we have the solution to our problem—and have had it for ages. A jury of our peers is the oldest institution of political liberty. Let us be governed by a jury. This isn’t a quick or infallible fix. It took a couple of juries a number of years to put O. J. Simpson in jail. But juries work well enough to have endured since the Magna Carta. Political campaigns only seem to last that long.
Would juries be better than politicians? Would you rather confront a miscellaneous selection of your neighbors’ dogs or a pack of Rottweilers bred for generations to attack freedom and guard privilege?
Jury members would be less experienced than the present occupants of office. But what experience that ordinary people haven’t had is required to tell right from wrong? Is the experience of standing on street corners in fishnet stockings—metaphorically speaking (and literally speaking to you, Eliot Spitzer)—to be required?
Jurors would be ignorant about legislative and regulatory issues. And aren’t we all. Who, exactly, in this Congress and White House has read all 906 pages of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act? Imagine a congressional hearing where the congressmen shut up and listened and actually wanted to learn something.
Certain individuals on juries would be naïve and easily suborned by special interests. They could turn out to be thieves. This has happened before in Washington. But who is more dangerous as a burglar—the thief who knows all about your valuables and where you keep them or the thief who’s never been in your house (or Senate) before?
There are, of course, no easy reforms in a long-established political system—except this one. The principles of jury selection are simple to apply to representational democracy, at least in respect to our elected officials. We don’t have to change the Constitution, we just have to change the Democratic and Republican nomination process, which is such a mess that any change would be uncontroversial.
There’s a jury pool in every political district. Call up members of the pool for jury—that is to say, nominee—duty. Let voters in primaries act like prosecutors, defense attorneys, and judges, excusing some and dismissing others. When the pool has been culled to a reasonable size, the general election voters can pick whom they like. Nothing would prevent common politicians from running on third party or write-in tickets. But they’d be easily identifiable as what they are—politicians.
Then we’ll know when we’ve won an election: We’ll know we’ve won when every candidate who is voted in begins his or her acceptance speech by saying, “Oh, #@*!”
P. J. O’Rourke, a contributing editor to The Weekly Standard, is the author of a new book, Don’t Vote: It Just Encourages the Bastards (Atlantic Monthly Press).