September 16, 2011
When rebels overthrow a dictator, they usually have a transitional government ready to take over. But what happens in the rare situation – such as the United States is experiencing now – in which there are no rebel forces but the government simply stops functioning on its own? Don’t we need a transitional government as an emergency backup plan?
In normal times, elections are all you need to get things back on track when leaders become useless or corrupt. And perhaps that will work this time too. But it seems more likely that a new bunch of Republicans and Democrats would get us the same deadlock and death spiral we see now. Maybe we should start thinking about forming a transitional government just to be on the safe side. I hereby nominate myself as leader of the emergency transitional government.
What? You doubt my qualifications? Allow me to make my case.
The job of President of the United States requires a specific set of qualities: character, principles, charisma, leadership skills, and a brilliant mind. I don’t have any of that. But being the leader of a transitional government is a very different job from president. In fact, I would argue that the best transitional leader is one that you can’t imagine as your leader for the long term. That’s the country’s best defense against the transitional leader turning into a dictator. You want someone who has no following, no allegiance to any political party or religion, and no likelihood of becoming popular. You want the transitional leader to be lazy enough that he wouldn’t want a permanent job with long hours, and cowardly enough that he worries about assassination. That is so me.
Here’s how I would run things in my transitional government: I’d organize policy decisions around a Judge Judy model in which advocates for each position get to argue their points in front of me on national television. I’d ask probing questions and bang my gavel whenever someone got into “spin” mode. Then I’d do some polling after the show to see what the country thought of the debate. One week later I’d do a second show on the same topic in which I’d ask follow-up questions on behalf of the public and the media before rendering my verdict. No decisions would be made behind closed doors. It would be like a reality show but with actual reality.
Consider the topic of climate change. Democrats and other pro-science types haven’t been entirely successful saying that 98% of scientists agree we should do something about climate change. We don’t live in an age where the public accepts “Trust us. We’re experts.” People need to see arguments unfold in front of them. The pro-science crowd is dismissive of the climate change doubters, but I don’t think dismissiveness is appropriate until the case has been argued in a public forum. Skepticism is a reasonable default position for the under-informed. And it’s not reasonable to expect the public to read and understand science papers.
The same dynamic holds true for every topic that is paralyzing the government. Would higher taxes kill growth? Let’s see the experts debate the question in a one-hour format. You’ve probably never seen a serious debate on the topic of taxes. All the public gets to see are pundits and politicians exchanging sound bites.
Just to be clear, the transitional government doesn’t need to reside in the White House, and none of our elected officials need to leave their jobs while the transitional government does its thing. Elected politicians simply need to take their direction from the transitional government and implement its policies until the permanent government demonstrates the capacity to do its job, perhaps by using a Judge Judy model of its own. At that point, the transitional government can dissolve.
Okay, okay, I know: Americans aren’t comfortable with the idea of having the guy who blogs about his ass-sniffing dog become their leader. But until someone else steps forward, it’s just a choice between me and the slow motion death spiral that is the current U.S. government. Perhaps you are optimistic that the government will right itself without any special help. But there’s a fine line between optimism and insanity.