Governing Is Supposed to Be Boring

by Jim Geraghty

From the first Morning Jolt of the week…

Governing Is Supposed to Be Boring

Maybe Robert James Ritchie – a.k.a. Kid Rock – would make a great senator for the state of Michigan, maybe not. But there’s something I’d like to ask him, neither endorsing nor denouncing the idea of a Rock senatorial bid.

Mr. Rock, are you sure you want to actually do the work of being a senator? Because I imagine it’s a lot less fun and exciting than being a rock star.

Governing is different from campaigning. It involves a lot of hearings and markups of legislation. It involves getting up to speed on a lot of issues that a lot of Americans, even politically-active Americans, don’t really pay much attention to in the course of their days. It involves getting into the weeds and figuring out the details of obscure federal programs, figuring out whether they’re needed at all, and if so, how best to make them work. It means constantly encountering people who want you to use you limited amount of power and authority to help them, and frequently having to tell them, “no.” Being in public office usually means being criticized no matter what you do. And with a few exceptions, there are a lot fewer groupies.

Let’s take a look at the last couple things the incumbent senator, Democrat Debbie Stabenow, has done or discussed. This is not an endorsement of Stabenow, just citing this as an example of the sort of issues a senator worries and thinks about on a day-to-day basis.

Stabenow recently boasted that the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Aviation Administration Runway Incursion Mitigation Program will provide $3.4 million to construct a service road and rehabilitate runways at Detroit Metropolitan Airport. She also pointed to the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Assistance to Firefighters Grants program which provided $141,715 for the Graafschap Fire Department to help purchase equipment.

She’s touting the fact that 29 Michigan counties will receive $4.6 million through the Department of the Interior’s Payments in Lieu of Taxes (PILT) program. “Michigan is home to more than two million acres of federal lands, meaning that county governments throughout Michigan miss out on important property tax revenue every year.”

She urged Defense Secretary James Mattis to establish the TRICARE Acquisition Cost Parity Pilot Program “will allow beneficiaries to get their medications from local pharmacies while preserving access through the existing military treatment facility and mail order systems, and reduce costs by allowing the Department of Defense to purchase non-generic medications at the same lower rate it pays for drugs dispensed through the mail or MTFs.”

She’s searching for nominees for the vacancies on the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan and one vacancy on the United States District Court for the Western District, as well as both U.S. Attorney positions.

In late June, “an eight-pound adult Silver carp was caught only nine miles from Lake Michigan,” by a commercial fishing vessel whose activities to combat Asian carp are funded by the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative.” Stabenow said. “GLRI funding is also providing resources for emergency monitoring and response actions that will be taken over the next two weeks by the Fish and Wildlife Service, Army Corps of Engineers, and the State of Illinois to detect and stop any additional Silver carp in these waters near Lake Michigan.”

Maybe Kid Rock hears about relatively-obscure issues like these and feels excitement and interest in tackling them. Maybe this stirs an appetite to learn more about these issues and problems and to figure out the best way to solve them. If it doesn’t… he probably shouldn’t run for Senate.

Kid Rock may very well be a great guy with his heart in the right place, good instincts, and values shared by many Michiganders. His efforts to help the youth of Detroit and revitalize its arts community point to a genuine empathy and passion for helping others. But governing isn’t just about values; it’s about getting the details right.

(I recall one of the 2012 presidential debates, when President Obama was asked about Social Security, and he began,“ the basic structure is sound. But — but I want to talk about the values behind Social Security and Medicare and then talk about Medicare.” Everybody loves to talk about values because there is no math involved. But that doesn’t change the reality of the math.)

Obviously, there are celebrities who do successfully make the jump to governing: Ronald Reagan, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Al Franken. It’s easy to forget Clint Eastwood served one term as mayor of Carmel, California. And then there are cases like Jesse Ventura, who seemed to get bored with the job, taking time to refereeing for the World Wrestling Federation and work as a color commentary for the short-lived XFL, and choosing to not run for reelection.

Donald Trump didn’t invent the idea of celebrities running for public office, but his success undoubtedly has plenty of Americans famous from other fields asking themselves, “why not me?” The most important question after that initial inquiry is, “do I really want to do the work involved in this job?”

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