Recently, I’ve been thinking about the constraints of our political choices. The sameness of our political incumbents and their challengers’ socio-economic composition is alarming. Many times the razor-thin differences lie in the law school they went to or the year in which they graduated from certain South Florida private schools. The homogeny of our candidates translates to political stagnation and, even worse, a sense of civic disconnect and disenfranchisement.
In Miami, the standardization of our political representatives is masked by the fact that minorities are the majority here. Therefore, our elected officials vary in ethnicity and gender but inherently share some important traits — they enter the political game already funded or easily fundable, and they are established and familiar in political circles.
Most of our elected officials or those who challenge them are “ready made” candidates, armed with all the tools (especially money or connections that can raise large sums of money) necessary to run for public office. The litmus test for party leaders — the so-called “king makers” — seems to be a candidate’s electability and political viability rather than a person’s ability or potential to be a good leader. Often this leads to candidates with more sizzle than substance.
There are clearly exceptions to the rule. Many longtime public servants have risen up the bureaucratic ranks and become wonderful elected officials as have several out of the box, successful business people with deep pockets — so much for meritocracy. And while we’re on the subject of diverse backgrounds, when is the last time an African American or a woman made a serious run for Miami-Dade County mayor?
The absence of variety in background among candidates does not necessarily point to sameness in political ideology or philosophy — there is a somewhat varied array of opinions, generally defined by party affiliation. However, similarities in socio-political upbringing and economic class inherently produce a procedural and systematic resemblance.
According to political analyst, campaign consultant and FIU professor Dario Moreno, the profile of elected officials in Miami is “quite predictable.” Moreno identified the state Legislature and small municipal posts “as a starting point for many local aspiring politicians to begin their careers.”
“In South Florida, there are overwhelming similarities in the background of many elected representatives and candidates aspiring for public office,” Moreno said. “At the state legislator level you have a great number of attorneys who predominantly come from middle-class backgrounds and are generally graduates from a local, private high school. At the city and county levels there is slightly more diversity, except there what you find are many career civil servants who move up the ranks.”
To Jose Azel, from the University of Miami’s Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies, this matter could be explained “by the Iron Law of Oligarchy,” which was introduced by German union activist, Robert Michels, at the beginning of the 20th century. The theory essentially states that “rule by an elite within any democratic organization is the byproduct of the ‘tactical and technical necessities’ of an organization.” The layperson translation is that the sameness that prevails among our political candidates is a result of the trappings of our bureaucracy.
How many times have you felt completely disconnected from a candidate’s rhetoric? How often have you wondered where their sense of urgency was? Political parties need to identify, develop and economically habilitate candidates from all sectors of our society.
A thriving democracy is invigorated and strengthened when challenged. A broad spectrum of political representatives provides greater inclusion of divergent perspectives that make us the dynamic society we are. Our political system needs to foster a culture of inclusion so that we can fulfill the promise of a government “by the people for the people.”