by Gary Berg-Cross
We are deep into the profoundly important 2012 political campaign, but also the more engaging NBA draft season. Basketball candidates for the draft are being sized up with very skilled analysis and actual workouts. I was startled by the contrast in how teams analyze and pick the next generation of NBA stars and how our “democratic” system picks its leaders.
The capabilities of players are not only well studied with clear statistics but tested. Candidates who claim to be 6’9’’ are actually measured along with their standing leap and bench press abilities and speed from baseline to baseline. One longs to have simple dimensions for our Pols that could be similarly accessed. It’s naive to expect such an easy matchup, but disappointing that we don’t even try. Our “debates” are a far cry from the pre-draft workout sessions the NBA runs to competitively analyze candidates. But then high draft choices are known to eschew being sized up competitively in workout camps. Candidates who played a matchup zone, may not be ready to play the man to man required in the NBA. No excuses allow.
Some top 10 NBA candidates (John Calipari trained Kidd-Gilchrist comes to mind) are touted for a winning attitude and work ethic. That translates over to the political arena but one has the sense that Pols have better managers and advisers to spin this story of how polished and ready they are. One thinks of the spin on Romney’s years as governor here, for example, that make a weak record into a fabulous winning season. The spin wins.
If a candidate has an obvious deficiency, say foreign policy, we hear how he or she makes up for it in ways an NBA forward could never argue. An embargo policy on China imports is not going to pass critical thinking in an NBA-style assessment. But in the system we have it passes for an acceptable story.
I don’t have an answer to the problem here, but one thought is that our democratic process is a creaky, legacy system whose engineering has been gamed for the candidate and their backers needs and not serving the bulk of we-the-people. We should care about this as much as we care about having a winning team in our town. We should care much more and work on it. We should insist on an empirical method that works to give us the best team to serve our needs. Others do a better job at this and we can too.
As we know from other domains including information systems, legacy systems are difficult to maintain in the face of new requirements. We need to at least prototype a new system.