Remember When Our 'Best and Brightest' Actually Ran For Congress?

By Frank Hill, Telemachus

You'd have to be 260 years old, then to remember when 'our best and brightest' in America made up virtually 100% of the sitting US Congress in 1789. That is probably the last time every single delegate to our federal government were among the very best in the nation in terms of brains, ability, accomplishments and negotiating skills.

We have spent a lot of time thinking about the difference between the makeup of the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia in that hot, smelly summer of 1787 and the current makeup of Congress and state legislatures around the nation.

There can be little doubt that the very top talent of the American population in terms of education, experience, brainpower and leadership ability were there among the 33 delegates at Philadelphia that hot, smelly summer. (Have we mentioned how unsanitary the conditions were back in 1787 Philadelphia? They were horrific.)

Those 33 delegates were in the top 1/10th of 1% of the population of America in 1787. Primarily due to education received; family sprung out from; wealth and privilege and all that accompanies such status in life. Very few people back then had far more educational and business opportunities than the majority of Americans living at the time. That was just the way it was.

There was James Madison, trained at Princeton and a certifiable genius in his own right. Benjamin Franklin was only one of the greatest scientists, philosophers, authors, journalists and all-around thinkers the American Republic has ever known on top of being a statesman, diplomat and all-around European sensation as he negotiated with foreign powers on treaties and massive international debt loans for the young republic.

Franklin would be right at home in the 21st century as our emissary to China begging them to keep loaning us trillions of dollars to fund our enormous debt. His raccoon hat would drive the Chinese people wild.

Alexander Hamilton was a brilliant military aide-de-camp to George Washington during the Revolutionary War and a skilled legal mind, writer and the first Secretary of the Treasury, only to be shot dead in a senseless duel with Aaron Burr who was a smart guy as well. So there really is no guarantee of great leadership from smart people, is there?

But Hamilton and Franklin both rose up from more than modest circumstances, Hamilton a bastard child to boot. Through the sheer power of their abilities and hard work, both men rose to prominence in the infant nation. Only in America can ability and perseverance trump position and power.

(One of our favorite expressions heard recently is that someone who is very wealthy was 'born on third base but thought he had hit a triple to get there!')

Our favorite unknown 'Founder', Luther Martin of Maryland, got smashed and plowed every single night for 4 months in that hot smelly summer of 1787 at the local pub. Delegate Martin bumped into a cow one night and apologized for ‘running into you, ma’am!’ as he doffed his hat and stumbled back to his hotel room to sleep it off.

And then presumably offered amendments and legal thoughts in the next day’s proceedings for the drafting of the vaunted US Constitution that has survived the ages, so far anyway, for these past 222 years.

‘Government of the people, by the people and for the people’ includes the sober and the drunk alike, remember.

You know what the main reasons highly qualified, successful and experienced people give today when asked to run for Congress and they decline, sometimes not very politely?

1) The press. 2) The disruption to their personal lives. 3) The media. 4) The reduction in income. 5) The intrusion into their private lives by the media and opposition research hit squads. And finally, 6) The media.

But subsumed underneath all that is this unspoken attitude: 'Running for the duly-elected Congress of the United States of America is beneath me....somehow.'

Really? Was it beneath the dignity and intelligence level of Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, John Adams, Alexander Hamilton, George Washington, and Benjamin Franklin, the richest, smartest, most well-educated, successful and well-known leaders at the time, to take humongous risks to establish this great democratic republic called the United States of America in the first place?

Put another way, if our nation was in extreme peril, a state of economic distress and uncertainty, and facing domestic and foreign threats that threaten the very survival of our nation, (it is all of these 3 things and then some) would our very best and brightest of today leave their work places and opulent homes to run for Congress and try to help right this ship of state by being in the US Congress or Senate or the White House?

We sort of 'wonder' if they would or would not. We have had close to 3 full years of the most severe economic recession since the Great Depression plus 2 wars overseas and heightened domestic alerts relative to terrorist attacks....and have any of our 'best and brightest' declared their intentions to run for public office?

Let's just tick off a few names everyone might have heard of who might be the modern-day equivalent of the 'best and the brightest' in attendance at the formation of the American Republic in Philadelphia in the summer of 1787. You know, the top 1/10th of 1% of all the people you have ever known who scored perfect SAT scores; were presidents of their student bodies in college; made millions in business and now live in 10,000 square foot homes on a golf course with 4 vacation homes in which to rejuvenate from time to time.

They should be no different today from Jefferson and Madison or Washington, should they?

How about Bill Gates...would he serve as a Congressman from The Great State of Washington? Or 'Senator' Warren Buffett from the Cornhusker state, Nebraska? We always pick on them as being Primo Exhibit A when it comes to people who do NOT deserve one penny paid to them from any federal entitlement program; why not elevate them to become the Jefferson or Madison of 2011?

Oprah Winfrey, now there's an American success story if there ever was one. Born into poverty in Mississippi, she is now a billionaire with her own television network and is credited with boosting Barack Obama's success against Hillary Clinton in the 2008 Democratic primaries on his way to the White House.

Thomas Jefferson ain't got nothing over Oprah, that's for sure. 'Senator Winfrey from the Great State of Illinois' one day?

How about a movie star or two? Clint Eastwood served as Mayor of Carmel back in the day; he'd be tough-against-crime-and-terrorists in his reprisal as 'Congressman Harry Callahan' of 'Dirty Harry' fame. Alas, Arnold Schwarzenneger...two terms as Governor of California already seems to have done him in, although the thought of a former 'Terminator' leading our country against the terrorists does have a certain mass appeal to it, you gotta admit.

How about a professional athlete? They are the nation's most recognizable faces and names, you know. No NFL, NBA or Major League Baseball back in the 1776 so no Babe Ruth, Kareem Abdul Jabbar or Johnny Unitas in the first Congress seated in 1789.

Michael Jordan? Would he ever serve in the US Congress? LeBron James? Which state, Cleveland or Florida now? Peyton Manning, now there is a Majority Leader who could get things done if there ever was an audible on the floor of Congress and tell everyone what to do or else he will drill them in the back of the head with a tight spiral.

How about Shane Battier of the Memphis Grizzlies? He conducted his admissions interview at Duke in German and everyone thought he would be the first African-American president in the United States.

He waited too long to run, apparently.

Our point here is not to make light of any prominent US individual but rather to point out that we need our best and brightest to look at the broader world and ask themselves: 'Does it make more sense for me to put my talents and abilities to work for the public good right now in this time of confusion and lack of positive direction in Congress or any elective legislative body or just stay in my place of business and 'comfort zone' right now?'

To those who worry about taking a 'pay cut' when running for office, rest assured that if you are a multi-billionaire before you run for office, you will be a multi-billionaire after you run and serve your country for awhile. Even if you are 'only' a multi-millionaire, as long as you have set up your finances and business structure beforehand with some forethought and planning, you can return to your place of business after you serve your country with distinction and integrity.

Think about it this morning. This article might be directed right at you to consider and ponder deeply.

There are congressional elections coming up in 18 months, November 2012. Now is your chance not only to 'make a difference' but to 'be the difference' at the very highest levels for your nation's future.

(Editor's Note: Frank Hill's resumé includes working as chief of staff for Senator Elizabeth Dole and Congressman Alex McMillan, serving on the House Budget Committee and serving on the Commission on Entitlement and Tax Reform. He takes on politics from a fiercely independent perspective at the blog Telemachus).


  1. I actually feel fairly qualified to voice an opinion on this; I'm a pretty smart guy, with a good education/career, and I have no desire to run for any public office.

    Why? Certainly I have a lot of viewpoints, ideas, and plans which I think would be good for the country (see my blog for reference). However, I would be very unqualified for politics, at least in the modern age. Reasons:
    - I don't lie well, or smoothly
    - I'm not much for toeing a party line I don't agree with
    - I doubt I could win any popularity contest, much less one based in the media
    - I haven't been groomed to be a politician from birth, so I have plenty of personal faults

    Besides, even if I were hypothetically in office, what good would it do for me to sit around, voting 'no' on every worthless piece of crap legislation packed so full of pork it qualifies at edible that was proposed? It's not like I'd be part of the "Gang of Six", trying to compromise on cutting a trillion dollars from the federal fire hose over ten years, when Congress and the President spent 1.6 trillion into the red last year alone; that seems just imbecilic and insulting to me. I'd be like Paul Ryan and Ron Paul, cross-bred with Paul Volkner (before he was co-opted); who the heck wants that person in office?

  2. Nick:

    Contrary to popular belief, no one is 'bred' like a racehorse to run for public office.

    In fact, in my extensive experience in government and politics, the very BEST representatives are those who 1) speak their mind; 2) know what in the hell they are talking about from previous life and work experience and 3) don't mind losing the next election as long as they feel they are advocating the right ideas.

    So, you might be the PERFECT Candidate this rugged times need!

    The problem most people have with politics is they confuse 'compromise' with 'giving in on principles'. it is best to equate 'compromise' with the synonym 'negotiate'. people in business negotiate and compromise every day....on price, delivery dates; color of the products, etc. etc. etc.

    Reinhold Niebuhr once said: Politics is "the method of finding proximate solutions to insoluble problems."

    You get as much as you can in this current year or session...and then, like Ronald Reagan always said and preached, "come back again next year and try to get 25% more' until you reach and achieve your objectives.

    Look forward to seeing 'Nick For Congress!' signs somewhere in this great land of ours in 2012!

  3. You mean Louise Slaughter, Sheila Jackson Lee, Billy Long, Anthony Weiner, John Boehner, and Nancy Pelosi aren't the best and brightest?

  4. nope, they are not.

    But the Left Coast Rebel, Tim Daniel certainly is!

    and Les Carpenter and all the other guys who write on this esteemed blog

    'Run, LCR, Run!' 'Run, Les, Run!'

  5. Frank,

    It seems to me that some people are groomed from an early age to go into politics; either by family ties, wealth, or specific upbringing. I had a father who worked for the Post Office and a stay-at-home mother, neither of whom have (or had) any family connections of note, wealth, or other means of status. I went to public school, and although I was fortunate enough to go to a good college, it certainly wasn't one of the Ivy League schools. I don't have a law degree like many (most?) politicians, I don't make a huge amount of money (I live in LA, though, so I make enough to live comfortably at least); I would make an atypical candidate at best, and more than likely a laughing stock. Sure, I have a high IQ, but that's not even a top-10 requisite for modern voters, especially in LA/California.

    Besides, all that aside, it would take far more dedication to either an ideal, or more commonly the pursuit of power, to want to run for office. Let's see, I could take time away from my job (which I work hard at to support my family) to campaign, open my life for public scrutiny and ridicule, and try to win a popularity contest inevitably based on sound-bytes and the local media bias, in hopes to join the ranks of an institution which is synonymous in my mind with corruption, lying, shady dealings, ineptitude, and the purposeful degradation of the state/country?

    I fully appreciate your point that we (the people) need good people to stand up and try to right the ship (metaphorically). Unfortunately, until or unless those people could actually get elected and not be co-opted by the system, the ideal remains fancifully elusive. My small contribution, for the moment, will just be to continue to make my ideas available online for the small few who read them, in hopes that if/when we get the systemic change needed for meaningful reform, we have some sort of blueprint for making the system better.

    Sorry if that was rambling, and I do really hope you are able to inspire the right people, and have success.

  6. Nick:

    you'd be shocked at how few legacies there really are in Congress...mostly that is a figment of the imagination of the press who highlight legacy families like they are important or something....America's version of royalty I guess.

    Truth be told, even if the first generation politician was a giant for some reason, the 2nd or third generations that just might happen to follow somehow are usually dimwitted spoiled brats, not unlike the same phenomenon that happens to rich families once the patriarch dies.

    You'd be surprised at the impact you could make. run for school board or local county can keep your job and support your family and contribute to the body politic that way first

  7. Frank - I am flattered. And who knows, that may be an eventuality.

  8. Rational Nation USA:

    It is my very FIRM belief and conviction that any and all people who have the ability to espouse, enunciate and write about any political issues from any part of the political spectrum MUST run for political office in some form or fashion before they expire and go on to the Great Beyond.

    Al Franken was a comedian, for Chrissakes! on SNL and wrote a book about Rush Limbaugh being a BIG FAT IDIOT!....and he put his mouth where his money was and ran for the US Senate....and is now sitting in the very same chamber where Henry Clay, Daniel Webster and Stephen Douglas once served....AL FREAKIN' FRANKEN!~

    If Stuart Smalley can do it, you, me, Tim etc. can do and lose, run and always WIN in either case simply because you get the chance to talk about things you care about in the public arena where it counts....and matters.


Commenting here is a privilege, not a right. Comments that contain cursing or insults and those failing to add to the discussion will be summarily deleted.