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The Lure of the Outsider

The Iowa Caucuses are set to take place tomorrow. That means that in a few short months we will have a much better idea of who the republican candidate will be in the 2012 election. I don't know about you, but I think it is about time for this dog and pony show to get on the road.

There has been an undercurrent to this race and to many political races in recent history that is about as subtle as a brick to the forehead -- voters' desire for an "outsider" candidate. As this somewhat dated, but nevertheless excellent piece from the New York Times points out:
In recent campaigns, the outsider ethos has become so powerful that, for a certain kind of candidate, lack of experience in Washington — or in politics altogether — translates into a defining virtue. 
The unfortunate nature of the outsider candidate is that they often falter when it comes to discussing  issues of political import, you know, because they we too busy running  pizza chains, starring in movies, or wrasslin' to learn the how to be a politician. That's not to say that these outsiders can't do great things once on the inside, but it does mean we shouldn't act surprised when we find that they have past indiscretions, mis-label continents as countries, or can't remember their talking points. Or as the article so eloquently puts it:
There’s a tension, often irreconcilable, between our romantic vision of the outsider candidate, on one hand, and our basic threshold for credibility in those who govern, on the other. Sure, we want colorful, outspoken characters who aren’t part of a corrupt political system. We just want them to be tested, scandal-free and ready to govern at the same time. Is that so much to ask?
 I think that the proverbial "Mr. Smith" is nothing more than a nice story and we should stop deluding ourselves into believing that just because a candidate has been successful in one industry (e.g., entertainment, business) he or she can replicate that success in the political arena. And we certainly need to stop assuming that these other industries and their participants, on account of not being politics or politicians, are corruption-free.

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  1. To a certain point this "outsider" notion is just absurd. In what other profession do you want to root for the "outsider?"

    "You know, I usually only get surgery from board certified physicians, but Jimmy down at Walmart seems pretty smart and may be able to bring a fresh new perspective to my appendectomy."

  2. I think the problem with the "Mr. Smiths" of the country is that most of the good people who would probably do right by their fellow citizen aren't the type to seek political office.

    Don't forget that George W. Bush ran as an "outside" even though his family was well entrenched in the highest echelons of government and business. Herman Cain, despite his pizza restaurant history, was also a Federal Reserve chairman in Kansas City.

  3. Good points Ben. Seems that the true way to office is to be an insider who does a great impression of an outsider.