What makes the best elected representative? I think that we have to consider two cases. There is one answer for the ideal case of a healthy democracy. Then there is the answer for today’s environment of extreme polarization and combative politics. Let’s consider the ideal case first. We can list a number of qualifications with the idea that no one person is likely to satisfy them all. First is the idea of a true “representative”. This means someone who a part of the social fabric of the communities that he/she represents. They know what is on people’s mind but more important they live the same life with the same experiences and challenges. We would want someone who represents but is also empathetic with the needs and problems of other constituencies, someone who can see the ‘big picture’ and is willing to discuss and compromise. Being effective at this means understanding the political process – building coalitions and consensus, good people skills. So experience with politics is important. You hire a plumber to fix a water leak, not an unskilled laborer. Finally, we need a person with vision, who, while working on solutions to todays problems, keeps an eye on a long term vision/goal and a roadmap on how to get there.
Now we have the challenge of today’s environment and today’s politics. All of the above characteristics and qualities are still important, but we need qualities that can lead us out of the current political morass. First, we need a person who realizes and understands the dire threat to our democracy that we are facing and is willing to put the fix for this situation as the top priority. We need someone who has outstanding communication skills. Someone who can address the electorate, describe the challenge that we face as a democracy, and describe a path forward, all the while enlisting the support for the sacrifices that may be necessary along the way. Someone with charisma, a natural leader. These qualities are relatively easy to articulate, finding people willing to step up in today’s caustic and ill-rewarding political environment is far more difficult. But we must try. Try means talk about it with friends and neighbors. Build a movement – not on one particular issue, but the big picture – the future of our democracy.
Since we can probably agree that we are not likely to find individuals with all the qualities we desire, we need diverse mix. We do not need all intellectuals. Nor, do we need a preponderance of lawyers. We don’t want our representatives to be or to be influenced by elites – financial elites or intellectual elites. We need our qualities in the “common man”. We might need a few career politicians for the sake of continuity in the political process but, we don’t want our representatives to be all career politicians. Times change and people change. Our representatives must change to deal with change. We do not want or need a ‘Ruling Class’. We are a government of, by and for the people! – All people!