A populist sentiment that I’ve often heard is that we, as a country, would be better governed by the first 535 names in the phonebook than we are by the 535 elected representatives in Congress. It’s a tidy little expression of peoples’ hatred of politicians in general and of Washington politics specifically. It’s cute and it’s interesting as a thought exercise, but it’s ludicrous — and not just because it’d be hard to parse a hundred different "Congressman Adams."

A populist sentiment that I’ve often heard is that we, as a country, would be better governed by the first 535 names in the phonebook than we are by the 535 elected representatives in Congress. It’s a tidy little expression of peoples’ hatred of politicians in general and of Washington politics specifically. It’s cute and it’s interesting as a thought exercise, but it’s ludicrous — and not just because it’d be hard to parse a hundred different "Congressman Adams."


People tend to think that an everyman makes a great political leader, and as such, nearly all politicians try to sell their stories as rags-to-riches. "He understands the working class," voters reason, or, "She’ll be more honest if she’s never been a politician before." This is utter bunk, and I’m not just spitballing; I speak from experience.


During my career in Colorado, I was hired by the campaign of an everyman who was running to be governor of the state. He rose to prominence as a kind of last-man-standing after the prohibitive favorite for the Republican nomination became mired in a plagiarism scandal. My guy was a kind man, a good person, and a spectacular failure as a statewide candidate.


His background was unexceptional and pockmarked by periods of struggle, both professional and personal — just like most any other person you’d pull off the street. Once he found himself in the spotlight, he learned his political opinions weren’t fully thought-through, and his bid for the governor’s mansion crumbled under the scrutiny of his policies and his past.


I’d wager that the vast majority of "the first 535 names in the phonebook" would find a similar fate in politics. Among them would be numerous people of below-average intelligence, people with all sorts of skeletons in their closets, and people who didn’t understand the first thing about what makes the country tick. If you’re thinking, "That doesn’t sound much different than the current lot," well, you’re fooling yourself.


Getting elected to high political office is a withering wringer designed to separate the intellectual wheat from the chaff. It’s exceptionally difficult for stupid people to rise through the ranks. (That’s not to say it doesn’t happen, but when it does, it’s because they surround themselves with smart people.) This is all a good thing.


The fact that there are 169 lawyers in Congress is used to savage the make-up of the group, but this, too, is a crock. Who would you rather have writing a law, someone who’s been to law school or someone who struggled to pass high school English? You’re going to find a whole lot of the latter in the phonebook.


The most prevelent concern I hear from people about the electoral process is that it favors people with money, but that’s only half true. While I’ll save my complete thoughts on the subject for another day, suffice to say that money flows naturally to the best candidate, and the best candidate is often someone who’s achieved success in the business sector.


The most legitimate complaint I could lodge against the current electoral system is that the media — and by extension, the voters — punish too harshly those who have made mistakes as young adults. It’s entirely possible to be a screw-up at 21 and Congressional material at 41, but we don’t vote like it.


In general, Congress is made up of smart, hard-working people who want to keep their jobs by delivering services to constituents. As I’ve said in this space before, the problem is that we hold it against everybody else’s Congressman for repping his local interests instead of our local interests.


But to suggest we’d be better off with a random collection of strangers is like saying the Dallas Cowboys would be better off with a team of blokes culled off the street. You may hate Tony Romo and you may hate your Senator, but suffice to say an everyman would be hard pressed to do the job of either.