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Pick the smartest guy at the BBQ

Posted: September 16, 2008 9:25 p.m.
Updated: November 18, 2008 5:00 a.m.

Oh, boy. Monday's stock market crash signaled a resounding kiss goodbye to the Great Lipstick Debate. The worst day in finance since 9-11. A 500-point crash on top of a real estate and mortgage meltdown of epic and unprecedented proportions.

Is it scary out there? Checked out your 401K lately? Be darn glad the Republicans failed to privatize your Social Security. Those guaranteed payouts are looking pretty attractive right now, aren't they?

Well, we're in a big fat mess, and no one really knows where this thing is headed or when it will end. Alan Greenspan coughed up that America is in the worst economic downturn in the past 100 years. The do-do we're in is waist high and rising like flood waters in Texas.

Eight years of make-believe Republican borrow-and-blow economics, combined with hyper-lax financial government oversight, has created a perfect storm that's crashing down on Wall Street like so many financial Katrinas.

Bloated bureaucracies
Republicans chant the mantra, "Government isn't the solution, government is the PROBLEM." Everyone agrees that bloated bureaucracies do no one any good.

But Republican George Bush built more bloat than anyone in history. Just because his bureaucracies are dysfunctional doesn't mean that others aren't lifesavers when properly funded and professionally staffed.

Taxpayers look to the government to provide the physical infrastructure we need for modern living - roads, highways, bridges, police, fire. Government also builds and maintains the infrastructure for justice, for commerce, and for finance.

Poor oversight of these brings on similar risks as poor management of roads and transit. Wherever our well-being is at risk, be it physical or financial, someone has to play the cop on the beat - and in America, that cop job is rightly in the domain of government.

But during the past eight years, Bush's finance detectives were in the back room playing poker with the mortgage and hedge fund crooks who went berserk with our money.

And Monday, taxpayers, savers, and retirees just paid for another Republican negligent mistake.

The silver lining in Monday's crash is that it we'll finally see a shift in our political debate away from lipstick to topics more substantial. Rudely sobered on Monday, voters are aware their quality of life is at stake.

On Nov. 4, we pick our country's new CEO. He'd better be a damn good one, quick on his feet, sharp of mind, and with an ability to see both big pictures and detailed nuances of economy, finance, foreign affairs, energy, and health care.
"Yup, yup, yup," as Sarah Palin says: This next president had better be a whiz-kid propeller-head.

But until Monday, polling showed that most Americans want a president "just like themselves." Someone they could BBQ with. Someone to chat with over the fence. Not exceptional, and not too intimidating.

Imagine such a job posting in The Signal's own Help Wanted section for such a position: "Wanted: Chief Executive for large multi-national entity with $3 trillion budget, millions of employees, and offices in every country throughout the world. The ideal candidate should have low to average educational achievement. Proven competency isn't required. International exposure is discouraged. The ideal candidate must be like our average employee in ability and demeanor."

Sounds absurd, doesn't it? But that's what pundits say we want. A guy or gal who talks like us, looks like us, and shares our hometown values and experience.

We don't want a heavy thinker or a guy who uses more than eight or nine words to complete a sentence - sound-bite answers to complex answers are what we want.

What if you worked for that company who hired their CEO matching the Help Wanted ad above? How long would your company stay in business and how much money would they make? What would your benefits be like, and how long could the company afford to provide them before the whole enterprise went belly up?

Well, we're wrapping up eight years of our Bush Backyard BBQ Buddy Presidency, and we're damn near pretty much belly up. We got exactly what we voted for. A folksy president, "just like us" who talked "values" instead of complex policy.

For the life of me, I don't know why we don't demand competency and brilliance over "folksy" when picking a president.

When you need a surgeon, you find the guy with the best education and highest skills - because your life depends on it. And when you really need a lawyer, you don't go for one of your buddies, you go for the super-bright guy likely way smarter than yourself - because your interests depend on his cleverness.

But for U.S. president we seem to want a political Mr. Rogers. Someone we can related to, who makes us feel better about ourselves.

Monday's meltdown grabs us by the throat and scolds us, "This ain't no folksy back yard BBQ no more!"

Comedian Bill Maher commented on our anti-intelligence bias: "New Rule: Republicans must stop saying Obama is an elitist and just admit you don't like him because of something he can't help, something that's a result of the way he was born. Admit it - you're not voting for him (because) he's smarter than you."

Our educated candidates
Obama: Top of class at Harvard Law. Head of the Harvard Law Review. Taught law for 10 years at University of Chicago. McCain: Fifth from the bottom of his class. Keating Five financial scandal dupe. Palin: Attended five colleges across six years for a journalism degree. No one knows her grades. But she lives near Russia.

This time, with our economy melting down like butter in the scorching Palmdale sun, I'd pick a president the same way I'd pick a surgeon or lawyer. This time, we go with the smartest and the brightest to protect our interests.
Anything less is likely to be "more of the same" - or even "more worse" than the same.

Gary Horton lives in Valencia. His column reflects his own views, not necessarily those of The Signal.


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