Members of the media asked Rick Perry in a previous debate who his economic advisors were, and he declined to provide specific names. Herman Cain offered a specific name in the Bloomberg debate, and now we see what happens when this kind of information becomes public. Reporters rushed off to consult Rich Lowrie’s LinkedIn profile. It turns out that Lowrie is a financial advisor with Wells Fargo in a small town in Ohio, and that he holds a B.S. in accountancy from Case Western Reserve University. Suggestions that Lowrie is “unqualified” now circulate through the blogosphere, but what implications does this hold for our political process?
In the New York Times, reporters Trip Gabriel and Susan Saulny noted that Lowrie “has never worked for a policy research group or an academic institution, or made a name through economic analysis.” In other words, the media often suggests that voters desire candidates who they can “drink a beer with,” but don’t let anyone without a degree from Harvard or Yale offer any kind of advice to those same candidates.
What kind of chilling effect does this pseudo-investigative behavior have on “regular citizens” who want to help candidates? How many citizens will be reluctant to assist campaigns in the future for fear that they will face public ridicule for “not being qualified enough?” In former Eastern bloc regimes it was the midnight knock of the secret police that kept a lid on popular political expression. In modern America, it’s the midnight phone calls from reporters and snide jeers made during the 24/7 news cycle.
Who defines what degrees or past employment experience are legitimate for advising candidates or holders of public office? Is this kind of credentialism compatible with our ideals of self-government? How easily we forget that the distinctions between the various university departments in the liberal arts and social sciences evolved in arbitrary ways in Europe and America. There’s a lot of overlap and cross-pollination between the fields of economics, political science, psychology, and so on. The same is true for the “business” disciplines, including accounting. Yet too many Americans appear to desire to be governed by technocrats.
We are all Rich Lowrie. The liberal elite have declared war on the “53 percent” of us. I’m a volunteer for the Michele Bachmann campaign, and I’m “just” a technical writer with a master’s degree in political science from Purdue University. I’m sure in someone’s eyes I’m “not qualified” to participate in the political process. Any of us could end up in Lowrie’s position.
People are free to disagree with the merits of Cain’s “999” tax plan, but attacking the educational or occupational background of one of the creators of the plan is merely a species of an ad hominem attack.
Imagine if we had more “regular people” involved in public life, and more citizen-legislators instead of lawyers occupying legislative seats in DC? This is one reason why we need stronger term limits, so that we can create enough churn and make it easier for “fresh blood” to serve in office.
Keep in mind that the constitutional requirement to become president is to be at least 35 years of age, a natural-born citizen, and have resided fourteen years in the United States. Lowrie meets these criteria as well. Having a degree from Harvard or being the CEO of a major Wall Street bank isn’t in the list of criteria. After all, Barack Obama himself was a professor at the University of Chicago Law School, and how’s that been working for us?