With billionaires standing in line to bless us by running for president of the United States, it’s time to stop and think if being very, very rich is a good indicator of being a good public official. The very term “public official” gives us a clue to the primary flaw in that assumption.
The American success myth proposes that if you get an education, work hard and stay out of moral messes, you too can live the American Dream. It also promises that if you concoct a great idea, you can market that idea and get very rich. Bill Gates is famous for dropping out of school and working in his garage to create Microsoft. He, Jeff Bezos, and Mark Zuckerberg are celebrities for their digital merchandise.
There are many things to admire about self-made billionaires, but public service doesn’t rise to the top of the list. They are shrewd, risk takers, and money magnets for their enterprises, but do they know how most Americans live their lives, how hard it is to make enough money on the average income to pay for health care and education? Do they have a clear sense of the difference between their own self-interest and that of the American public? Do they embrace the Constitutional separation of powers and balance of powers between our branches of government and between the national government and the state governments? Do they realize that freedom of religion means you can follow your own conscience, but you cannot impose your views on me?
Campaign media make us excited about the horse race, but any good equine expert will tell you, look at how that horse is built. Does it have a good disposition? Is it steady and reliable? Media are easily bored and want to sell newspapers, but we don’t need to buy a pig in a poke. The link between making money and making good public policy is frail.
HARRIET H. YOUNG