On Douthat's Call for Candidates

by Jonathan Bernstein

Ross Douthat says that "when non-politicians who actually know something about policy be they political journalists, think-tankers or public intellectuals get involved in government, it’s almost always as spokespeople, speechwriters and policy advisers, rather than as actual candidates for office"

[T]here’s certainly no current American equivalent of Britain’s Boris Johnson, the magazine-editor-turned-Tory M.P.-turned-Mayor-of-London or Michael Ignatieff, the historian, essayist and academic who’s now the leader of Canada’s Liberal Party.

I'm all for people getting involved in politics as politicians -- I think we undercelebrate politicians as heroes of democracy -- but I think Douthat needs to look around a bit.  Parochially speaking, he could start with the political scientist and Member of the House David Price (D-NC), who is currently Chair of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Homeland Security.  Indeed, there are twenty-three Members of the current House who hold a Ph.D., although the CRS doesn't detail what their fields are.  I can't say that I'm as impressed as Douthat is with former history prof and Speaker Newt Gingrich, but if you like people with an academic or semi-academic background, there are plenty in Congress. Alas, CRS doesn't have a breakdown of how many of them were think-tankers, how many were professors, or what other careers they may have had before politics...I'm not remembering any other political scientists off the top of my head, but there are a lot of very well-educated people.

If, however, Douthat is looking for something a little more media-oriented, CRS reports that at least one current Member is a former talk-show host, and another was a television commentator (and I think .  Douthat is no doubt also thrilled that public intellectual J.D. Hayworth is resuming the politician portion of his career, after an involuntary return the media).  I say "at least" one current talk show host, because I don't think that CRS included Al Franken, so that would make two.

And, you know, I'm sorry about doing this, but there's no way around it -- there is one more pol...there's a guy who used to teach law school, and wrote an acclaimed memoir.  You know, a real book, the kind real authors write, although perhaps not quite as serious as these fine examples of American snake-oil salesman statesmanship.  Granted, it does make Douthat's point: I think we would be better off with a few more Barack Obamas in American politics.