Thursday, August 4, 2011

Welcome To Guttenberg

I'm continuing to try and brainstorm any possible way that we as a nation can find our way towards gaining and maintaining a leadership of reasonable, rational adults. I'm sure you have too, but I would like to have ideas to use beyond 'Vote out ALL incumbents! Both sides!' To me, that's not really enough. I mean, the past three elections- 2006, 2008 and 2010- have been considered 'waves', elections where large chunks of seats changed hands, and after three straight rounds of electoral carnage- on both sides- this is where we stand, a place most would agree is even worse than where we started before those three elections.

So a straightforward throw-the-bums-out mentality, with no further direction, isn't working.

'Term limits!'

12 year-limit, right? You tell me what possible good a term-limiting is going to have on someone that's doing their damage within months, weeks, DAYS of taking office. Scott Walker didn't even wait for his inauguration before pressuring outgoing governor Jim Doyle to kill a high-speed rail project. There is no term limit in the world that's going to prevent that. No, I want something else. Something new. Something outside the box.

Something like a political hall of fame.

...okay, how many of you stopped reading and went off to go ogle pictures of Jennifer Love Hewitt?

For the rest of you, I'm envisioning an American Political Hall of Fame. First off, halls of fame are awesome. Second, and more to the point, done correctly, it can be used as an inspiration to greatness- a concrete, independently-bestowed, high-profile honor that cannot be bought or campaigned for but rather must be earned. It can also be a humbling device, a way to tell those getting a big head, 'you may think you're some hotshot, but these are your betters, and they expect more of you'.

This might also, incidentally, have an effect on the rest of the public. You see, as much as some of them may deserve it, even when elected officials behave themselves, we're still pretty hard on them. We any offhand remark saying how they'd like to see something or other happen as a "promise" to be filed alongside the stuff they stump for in campaign rallies, and damn the man or woman who then "breaks" their "promise" by subsequently regarding that offhand remark as an offhand remark. Damn the elected official who loses a vote and then fails to find some way to brazenly ignore the vote and ram through their defeated policy goals anyway. Damn them if they ever go home and take a day off of work. Oh, no. They're playing golf. While people are out of work and/or starving and/or getting killed by something or other, which in a total coincidence has been the case at every time ever. The BASTARDS.

When called on this, every single time the response will be along the lines of 'Well, they're being held to a higher standard.' Nobody ever actually defines this standard. It's this morphing, evolving thing that nobody ever actually seems to reach.

With a Political Hall of Fame, that 'higher standard' is no longer that kind of moving target. There's your higher standard, cast in bronze and marble and free on Tuesdays. Here's who you're trying to live up to.

But you've got to put it together properly in order for it to be any of these things.

First, we need a location. Someone's got to house the Hall of Fame. But I want to start by noting where I DON'T want it: anywhere in the Beltway or environs. Too insular. Too self-congratulatory. Doesn't send a good message at all. I also do not want it in any city in the country where it would not be the town's primary claim to fame. A good Hall of Fame makes the town synonymous with its Hall. 'He's going to Cooperstown.' 'He's going to Canton.' That's what I want here.

Think of it like this: take every city that houses a major league team in the five major leagues- MLB, NBA, NFL, NHL, MLS. Eliminate every single one of them. Take any city that houses an NCAA Division 1 program. Eliminate those cities too. And Division 2. And Division 3. All out of consideration.

While you're at it, you can also dump any city claiming to have the first or biggest of anything or which prominently claims to be the 'capital' or 'home' of anything or anyone.

All done? There's your starting point.

I'd like to have it in Iowa, near the Mississippi. First off, I've been in that area and it's just lovely. Second, the Mississippi has a nice Americana value to it. Third, Iowa is the home of the first Presidential primaries. Any semi-serious candidate, anyone serious enough to stump in Iowa, would be almost obligated to show up at some point. How much of an effect it has on them is up for debate, but the assumption here lies on it either having at least some effect, however small, on some of the candidates, and/or it having an effect on the voters who visit and then almost certainly look at the candidates and go 'why can't YOU be like that?'

As for a specific town, I'm going to pick Guttenberg. It's a small town, about 2,000 people, and local geography dictates that it'll never be all that much more than that, but that's fine. If you want a town to be destined as a synonym for what we're doing, you don't want any town that's known for anything. Which limits you largely to small towns. Guttenberg's main claim to fame is that they have a lock and dam of the Upper Mississippi. That's it. (The local geography of Guttenberg is that it's a thin strip of development on the riverbank, pressed in by bluffs. The bluffs can be built on, though, and are reachable, so we'll stick the Hall up there. It'll be a nice view and it cuts down on flood risks. Am I thinking about this way too much? Like I care.)

So we have a location. Now the much more relevant question: how to determine who's going to Guttenberg.

First, let's define who's eligible for enshrinement. There are two main rules:

1. Eligible candidates must, of course, have something to do with politics. This could be elected officials, unelected members of the public sector (such as Cabinet members, Supreme Court justices, staffers, members of the bureaucracy, etc.), campaign workers, journalists, lobbyists, activists, pollsters, whatever. However, whoever they may are, they can only be judged on their political body of work. John McCain, for example, can't have his Vietnam experience count for him except as it relates to his use of it as a utensil over his political career.

2. Candidates become eligible for induction after having been dead for a minimum of 25 years. No exceptions. Any earlier than that and I feel the process will become too partisan for there to be a good enough appraisal. I do not believe the political world can be trusted to properly judge its own contemporaries; there will be too much partisan posturing and not enough historical hindsight into a candidate. Besides, there really is no 'retirement' to speak of. You can continue to have an effect on politics right up to your final breath and beyond the grave. It really will not do to have anyone who's alive get inducted, run for office on it and win, and then proceed to suck. That costs everyone involved credibility.

Next, the induction process.

Round 1 will be public nominations. I want to, at some point in the process, involve the general American public, give people a sense of ownership of the place. This is my method of doing that. The main ballot- Round 2- will consist of 50 names in any given year. 45 names on the inaugural ballot will be decided by the public, through online nominations. We'll say they can nominate up to 10 people. The top 45 names- after the removals of fakes and ineligibles- go on the ballot. The other five slots will be handed to... well, here we'll just call it the Veterans' Committee like most Halls of Fame call their secondary committee. We can call it something else later. The Veterans' Committee is a panel of whoever the Hall of Fame curators deem fit. Their job is mainly to fill in the mental gaps. They're going to try and put more obscure names on the main ballot, names that the general public wouldn't really ever think to nominate.

Round 2 is the main ballot. Here, let's just be honest, I'm cribbing heavily from baseball's procedure. It's a good way of doing things and fits in nice with what we're trying to do. The main ballot is sent to a group of political historians, none of which can already have been on the Veterans' Committee. We'll aim for somewhere between 500-1,000 of them. They're our equivalent of the baseball writers- they specialize in the knowledge base we need, and besides, of all the groups of people that get dragged into political fights, they actually largely get left alone to do their thing. They're perfect Hall of Fame voters. They'll get the main ballot of 50 names and be asked to vote to elect up to 12 names. Just like in baseball, anyone who claims at least 75% of the vote is inducted into the Hall of Fame. 75% is well and plenty enough to keep above a partisan fight. Plenty of political types would get 50% of the vote. It's that last 25% that'll get you.

If you don't get 75%, you're not in, at least not yet. However, other top performers on the ballot get a consolation prize: anyone who gets at least 10% is guaranteed a place on the ballot for the next year. The remaining places on the ballot are placed up for grabs in the next Round 1 nominations, with 3 spots reserved for the Veterans' Committee in years after the first.

On the other hand, should anyone be so unfortunate as to not claim a single vote- it happens in baseball, so don't laugh- that person becomes ineligible for five years. This will help cut down on people trying to shove a name through the nomination process that are just totally, completely unacceptable.

Usually in a Hall of Fame, that's the end of it. You're in, you're in. However, this is history we're talking about. Times change. Sentiments change. People who seemed like good choices upon their induction can, over time, turn out to not look nearly as good. This has happened before in a related hall, the Hall of Fame for Great Americans in New York City, housed at Bronx Community College. (It also had a dead-for-25-years requirement, though they bent it a few times.) That Hall, while a point of national pride in its time, was intensely campaigned for in only the one round of balloting (this is why the public is not given the final round) and made some very questionable choices. James Buchanan. Stonewall Jackson. Sidney Lanier, campaigned for by the Daughters of the Confederacy after Booker T. Washington had gotten in. You look at such names now, and honestly, James Buchanan is not someone worth honoring like that. That's not like putting Eppa Rixey in baseball's Hall of Fame. That's like inducting Turk Wendell. Bad choices like that cost a Hall credibility in later years.

The Hall died off for lack of interest, mainly because not enough people were getting elected. People were used to electing 10 people at a time, once every five years. (We're doing a much smaller annual induction, so that won't be much of an issue.) It also got overshadowed by baseball's Hall of Fame, which was inducting people who were still alive. (We'll hold firm on that point. We also will refrain from simply reanimating the Hall for Great Americans, as it took from all walks of society and we're focused squarely on politics.)

We're going to allow for the possibility of bad choices with an ejection mechanic. We'll let the first ten years of the Hall go, so we can build up the place a bit. Starting in Year 11, nominations will ask the public which single Hall of Famer they feel to be the least deserving of enshrinement. The Hall of Famer with the most votes will be placed onto an ejection vote on the main Round 2 ballot.

However, just as it's tough to get in, it's just as tough to get yanked back out. It will take 75% of the vote to evict. If 75% vote to evict, out they go. Their plaque will be saved, but placed in a special exhibit outside the walls of the Hall of Fame with a second plaque explaining why they were kicked out. (They are, however, eligible to be re-enshrined.) If they don't get 75%, that Hall of Famer is safe for one year, plus an extra year per 10% of the vote they came in under 75%. If in Year 1 Abraham Lincoln got 74% of the vote to evict, he would be safe in Year 2 but would be eligible for eviction again in Year 3. If he got 65%, he'd be safe in Years 2 and 3 and would be eligible again in Year 4. however, the voters were more reasonable, said 'wait, are we seriously voting on whether to kick Abe Lincoln out of the Hall of Fame?!' and under 5% voted to evict, that's eight years of safety he's got ahead of him.

So when on the calendar are we doing all this? I'm timing the induction ceremony for around late August: nice weather in eastern Iowa, still green and nice but after the worst of the summer heat passes. We work backwards from there: online nominations go on over March and April, the main ballot is drawn up, printed out and deliberated on over the course of May and June, and I'd like the inductees announced on July 4 for obvious reasons.

So now we just need to get someone to pay for and build the thing. Also maybe we should tell the people of Guttenberg, Iowa about the plan. They might not like it if someone came along and just started randomly pouring concrete without warning.

Now how do we find the money? Darned austerity.

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