I attended a barbecue fundraiser for Tom Torlakson, who's running for California State Superintendent of Public Instruction. It reminded me of the absurdity of how we select our leaders. To think, he's traipsing around the state day after day, month after month, pressing the flesh and giving a no-one-could-disagree speech at Lions crab feeds, union hall pancake breakfasts, and luncheons at fat cats' homes.
Such a process deters the best people from running and means that, once elected, they're beholding to special interests. And do we really know how good an elected official he'll be compared with his opponents?
That made me flash back on a discussion I had 35 years ago with my doctoral advisor, Michael Scriven. We agreed that among the most beneficial things to improve America would be to require political campaigns to be 100% public-funded and just two weeks long, consisting only of televised debates and non-partisan-created online and printed lists of the candidates' voting records and stances on key issues. Then we both went back to our three-ring-circus lives and, of course, nothing changed.
Even powerful senators like John McCain and Russ Feingold, who spent a few years trying to get meaningful campaign reform, produced little. Today, for example, the superrich like Meg Whitman, can buy the California gubernatorial election.
I am pleased with the way my life has turned out: a busy career counselor, talk show host, writer, and consultant. Not bad. I make a difference while making a good living. That's more than most people get.
But I wonder if I would have made a far greater contribution if I had, after that conversation with my advisor, decided to fully devote my entire life to creating the campaign reform I outlined above. The first years would no doubt mainly be spent learning, building relationships, and making mistakes. But today, 35 years later, it is not inconceivable that I could have brought about real campaign reform. If so, the country, indeed the world, would be far better. If not, I believe I would have at least made progress and certainly lived a life of admirable integrity.
The lesson here: Ask yourself if you'd be wise to pick the biggest, make-a-difference goal that excites you and focus, obsessively, for the rest of your life if necessary, on its achievement.