Dullness a virtue in our politicians

Published on Sunday, 29 June 2014 23:55 - Written by

The most exciting political essay of the summer has it exactly right — we are in desperate need of boring political leaders. Writing in National Review magazine, Kevin D. Williamson makes a “Case for the Boring Politician.”

“The most boring president of the modern era probably was Dwight Eisenhower, whose administration was marked by relative peace, prosperity, and confidence in the effectiveness and integrity of our institutions,” Williamson writes. “The most boring president ever surely was Calvin Coolidge, who pinched pennies and kept at his plow, more or less leaving the country free to go about its own business, which turned out to be an excellent economic program.”

Compare these men to our most “exciting” presidents.

“John Kennedy, who was privately corrupt and publicly inept; Richard Nixon, who was privately corrupt and publicly corrupt; Bill Clinton, who combined the worst features of Kennedy and Nixon, adding a distasteful dose of sanctimony to the mix,” Williamson writes.

This matters right now because the GOP field of possible presidential candidates is emerging. There are two kinds of candidates in Williamson’s world —the exciting and the boring. Coincidentally, they can also be broken down into senators and governors. The lists match. And it’s a useful dichotomy.

“The Senate, particularly if you are in the minority, is a place to make speeches, to think big thoughts and construct grand philosophies — which, in anything but the smallest of doses, constitutes vice,” he said. “Talk to a senator from any party or political tendency, and you can count on an interesting conversation. Governors? Dead boring.”

And that is a virtue.

“A senator, especially a senator in the minority, never has to compromise; under Harry Reid’s management, Republican senators really can’t do very much, so they don’t do very much — other than make exciting speeches. There’s no upside to doing anything else,” Williamson contends. “Governors, on the other hand, have to do things — they have to run their states. Some of them, like Scott Walker, of Wisconsin, have to work with Democrat-dominated states and electorates that do not vote very much like Texans or Oklahomans. When something exciting happens to a governor, it’s generally bad news. The best executive operations are like the best technology: When it’s working right, you hardly even know that it’s there.”

Closer to home, we see this dynamic working out in the Governor’s Mansion. Gov. Rick Perry is at his best when he’s leaving Texans alone to go about their business in a low-tax, low-regulation environment. He gets into trouble when he tries to do something exciting — such as mandating that all Texas schoolgirls get HPV vaccinations.

On the national scale, economists agree that the thing slowing the U.S. recovery to a crawl is uncertainty — companies aren’t hiring much because they don’t know what’s coming out of Washington next. That’s what comes of an “exciting” administration.

“I don’t need to be inspired and don’t desire to be awed or ruled,” Williamson said. “I want what has been missing these past years: a responsible, sober, honest, predictable federal government, one that recognizes its own limits.”

He’s exactly right.