How Did that Idiot Get Elected? (Impact of Apathy in Politics)

apathy in politicsEver sit at home and watch the evening news or read the paper and see a story about some elected official who does something so incredibly stupid that it makes you mutter (or yell) to yourself, “How did that idiot get elected?”  If so, you’re not alone.

So how did they get that job?  The short answer is usually, “he (or she) showed up” – plus “apathy”.

  • They went to the meetings nobody else wanted to go to.
  • They volunteered to do the things nobody else would do.
  • They were then asked to serve on some committee.
  • Eventually they were put in charge of something because there were so few people willing to do anything.
  • When that vacancy for school board or some other commission opened up, there they were.  Somebody decided they should get promoted (or just wanted to get them out of the job they were in to be rid of them).
  • When a city or county council seat opened up, there they were.
  • Then it was the state legislature…and before you know it, they’re a congressman, governor…or even President.

The Result of Apathy in Politics

It’s sort of a political version of the “Peter Principle“, which states that “employees tend to rise to their level of incompetence”.  I call it the “Unified Theory of Political Incompetence”: people in politics rise beyond their level of incompetence due to the apathy of others.

Apathy in politics is why only around sixty percent of the people in our country register to vote, and about half of those bother to vote in the average election.  Fewer still will vote in primaries, local or special elections.  And only a fraction of those people bother to participate any further, which leaves political parties and other civic groups starved for participation.

Politics, like everything else in nature, abhors a vacuum.  Of course suffering under incompetence is one thing, but it can be worse.  As Edmund Burke put it, “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing”.

“Apathy plus showing up” is not a formula for good leadership.

Everyone started somewhere.  Whether we like it or not, the lower ranks of American politics serve as the “farm team”.

Don’t abandon the lower ranks to idiots and you’ll have less to complain about.

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