Morgan Liddick: We all lost when managers replaced farmers in D.C.
And On the Right
A few weeks ago, I visited Palisade, one of our state’s prime viniculture regions. As I wandered around the green and leafy landscape, I was reminded of the musings of our Founders about the type of person most of them considered the ideal citizen and leader: the farmer.
To Thomas Jefferson, “Cultivators of the earth are the most valuable citizens. They are the most vigorous, the most independent, the most virtuous, and they are tied to their country and wedded to its liberty and interests by the most lasting bonds.”
We might find this preference odd today, having been inured to decades of leadership by professional politicians, trained in the trade of “Public Administration” and other similar occult arts. We tend to regard our political class as a group apart, members of a permanent and hermetic priesthood of power. This is a mistake, as our Founders knew.
Their preference for farmers made sense. Because of the natural rhythms of the seasons, agriculturalists had time to think, to read, and to engage in civic discourse; they had the time to devote to governance. Farmers also had” and have today ” an appreciation of hard work and a refined sense of the practical; what is, usually gets more consideration than what “should be.”
In Jefferson’s time, farmers were the largest class of property owners. Because of this, they had a significant stake in the success of the American experiment. Good and prudent government was particularly important, as they couldn’t hide their assets from the taxman or from covetous officials, and they required sufficient security and quiet to allow the development of their land and products. We have long since forgotten the link between property and prudence, but there is wisdom in it still ” as anyone who has managed rental property knows well.
Farmers take the long view. Because of the nature of agriculture, they must plan their business in terms of years, if not decades; neither grapevines nor cherry trees give fruit in their first years. For a farmer to prosper, stability and predictability was ” and remains ” essential. From George Washington forward for more than a hundred years, the foresight and patient planning of agricultural America served us well.
Our political sense began to change as we became an urban nation, a process which took much of the last century ” and still is not complete. “Management,” a term invented to give the patina of science to the inchoate process of running a business, took on a cachet, and “managers” began to infiltrate the process of government.
With managers came new attitudes. Politicians became more interested in the technical aspects of running a state; measurement and other “scientific” practices ” the poll, the survey, the economic report ” came to the fore as older, more holistic versions of political leadership waned.
Under JFK, “management” triumphed in Washington. We employed “The Best and the Brightest,” hoping that somehow, they would make life “better.” They got us to the Moon, gave us Velcro and Teflon ” and Vietnam.
Robert McNamara was probably the single best example of the first big wave of government “managers.” As Secretary of Defense, he decided to run the Vietnam War using the principles he developed at Ford Motors, with results we all know.
Unheeding of this example, we continue to stock the offices of government with people of his ilk. Today, a management background is becoming as much of a political asset as a law degree. This is dangerous practice, particularly given our present multifaceted, long-term challenges.
Managers tend to concentrate on the bottom line and the next quarter. This may not be a failing in business and in fact may be an asset. Our national fetish for “management” also fits well with a culture dominated by a thirst for instant gratification and having the attention span of a Mayfly.
Unfortunately, we are presently faced with a number of tasks ” developing new sources of energy, renewing our ability to compete in the world economy, responding to the threat of Islamic extremism ” that cannot be effectively addressed in a day, a week, or perhaps even in years.
We have opponents and competitors on the world stage today who, be they Chinese businessmen, Russian politicians, or Islamic Jihadists, have timelines of decades or longer, and are chess-players.
Dealing with these will require vast patience, dogged determination, a long view and an understanding that foundations laid today will be used by those seeking success long after one’s time in office has passed. These are not the attitudes of a manager, nor of a consensus-seeker, nor any other familiar political species. They are the attributes of a leader.
Any farmers out there want the job?
Oh, yes: Week 26 of the Democrat Congress’ war in Iraq. That’s half a year, folks. And counting …
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