We choose our leaders, but our options are limited to those on the ballot. In his latest column, Jeremi Suri posed the questions all of us have been thinking but are too coy to ask: Why are our local candidates (and national candidates, for that matter) so mediocre? Where is the leadership? After dining with successful business leaders, Suri questioned why they were not running for office. They exemplified qualities that constituted leadership, courage, ambition and rigorous thinking. Why couldn't they translate that success into the public sector?
But are business leaders really the people we hope to inspire? It is true that many of our candidates for office could not run a major business, but does that mean the inverse applies? Could Lloyd Blankfein of Goldman Sachs overcome the next two years of Congressional gridlock? Business leaders have a considerable amount of autonomy. Businesses are more often profit-driven entities with a hierarchical internal structure. Politicians’ objectives are not so well defined. They tackle whichever issues are most salient to their constituency. Their powers are constrained and they face collective action problems. Public offices have less creative freedom than business leaders to find solutions.
Business leaders are not necessarily our best candidates; compelling them to run is not as important as reaching out to young adults. In his column, Suri presses the next generation of young strivers to cultivate their skills, vote and get in the game. As of now, many young adults do not have seats in public offices. Many do not run. With no family, no children and entry-level jobs, they are often disinclined to. Many young adults feel they lack anchors to their communities. They feel they have no ties they can leverage to demonstrate their commitment. The next generation has a wealth of resources available to it. This generation’s problems have become more complex, yes, but young adults are also more equipped to handle them with the lessons of history, technology and globalism. They are capable, but overwhelmingly hesitant to run. Empowerment as well as training can overcome this.
We need to enable our next generation, more specifically, our next generation of women. Young women are one of the most underrepresented populations in our government. This trend has existed throughout history. Women of all ages do not run for office as often as men do, even though they are much more likely to vote. This is a result of the sexism and discrimination female politicians confront. They are held to alternate standards and expectations in politics. How often has Senator Tom Harkin commented on the "good looks" of male candidates? Would Wendy Davis’ parenthood be scrutinized if she were a man? If we allow the gender gap in politics to diffuse to the next generation, we will disenfranchise nearly half of our population, half of our knowledge and skills.
Suri is right. The candidates on our ballots are unimpressive. But the solution is not compelling business leaders to run for office. It is reaching the next generation of young adults, more specifically, young women. Only this way can we blend excellence and diversity to enable better leaders.
Shah is a business and government sophomore from Temple.