Over the holiday weekend the Fargo Forum named Governor Doug Burgum their Person of the Year.
We need to stop treating election victories as if they were the finish line for politicians, rather than the first step in a process through which they will hopefully turn out to be good leaders.
My intent here isn’t to throw dirt on Burgum. He’s had a fantastically successful career in the private sector, and his rise to the highest office in state government last year was remarkable. But in terms of governing he hasn’t, you know, done anything.
Yet. Regardless, the Forum‘s premature honors aren’t his fault.
The Forum did the same thing in 2012 when they named U.S. Senator Heidi Heitkamp their Person of the Year after a stunning upset victory over Republican Rick Berg. Heitkamp hadn’t spent a day in public office in over a decade, but already she was being feted by our state’s largest and most influential media outlet for winning an election. She’s spent her years in office since then working hard to avoid making any policy decisions which might be a detriment to her re-election in 2018.
Hardly inspiring stuff.
But it’s not like the Forum has a monopoly on this sort of thing. Donald Trump was named Time’s Person of the Year for winning an election. Hell, Barack Obama got a Nobel Peace Prize for winning the national election in 2008, an honor that left even Obama himself feeling dubious as it turns out.
Everybody likes to complain about campaign politics. We decry the dirty tricks and the all-consuming ambition on display, and rightly so.
But it’s also true that we all spend a lot more time paying attention to politicians when they’re campaigning than we do when they’re actually governing, and the media are aware of this. You can almost sense the feeling of ennui which permeates media coverage between election cycles.
Giving politicians awards for their campaign accomplishments, as opposed to policy advancement, is a manifestation of these priorities. We’ve made it so that the campaigns almost matter more than what our leaders do in office.
Winning an election is an accomplishment, sure, but it’s not the goal. The goal is sound governance.
Let’s start rewarding the latter, not the former. And if we’re looking for people to honor, I’m sure we could find a lot of people – doctors, scientists, teachers, cops, etc. – more deserving than a politician.