Richard Levitt: Public Service

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In good times and bad, the quality of those who serve in government is critical. Richard Levitt looks to the Framers for clues about the kind of people they imagined would serve.

I've been trying to imagine what the framers of the Constitution might think of our current politics. So I scrubbed the Federalist Papers, 85 essays published in 1787 in 1788, written by people who actually wrote the Constitution, including Alexander Hamilton and James Madison.

They explore ideas central to an all new government foreign affairs, state affairs, the military, the economy, the branches of government. They wrote, “The office of the President will never fall to the lot of any man who is not in an eminent degree, endowed with the requisite qualifications. Talents for low entry and the little arts of popularity may alone suffice to elevate a man to the first honors in a single state. But it will require other talents and a different kind of merit to establish him in the esteem and confidence of the whole union.”

But their world required ground level candidacy. State by state. Town by town. Handshake by handshake. They couldn't conceive of people with the means to elevate themselves into office without first building a foundation of political engagement.

Historically, being rich and successful does not guarantee a good chief executive. Presidents Harding, Hoover, Carter and both Bushes were successful in business, but had terrible records in terms of gross domestic product, foreign policy and scandal. But at least they worked their way up through the political system in advocacy or activism, local and state government, the military. They demonstrated a sense of duty to the common good and interest in managing systems that aren't profit driven. They showed selflessness, collaboration and the inclination to serve business success and wealth are terrific. But being committed, truly committed to society is better.


I say, 'Want to be President? Prove it first.'

With a Perspective, this is Richard Levitt.

Richard Levitt is an East Bay writer who teaches martial arts, yoga and creative problem solving.