Can Competence Win Elections?

Last Friday I had the privilege of participating in a webinar that Tim Kaine gave to the members of Democrats Abroad, an organization that encourages U.S. citizens living outside of the United States to vote in US elections. Senator Kaine is a former Governor of Virginia, the state he represents in the Senate and was also Hillary Clinton’s running mate in the last election.

One of the things that Senator Kaine said that struck me is that in normal times, competence does not win elections. His understanding is that telling voters that one candidate is simply more competent than another is boring and will not get people to the polls. The last presidential election in the U.S. bears this out as both he and MS. Clinton made the case again and again that Donald Trump was unfit for office but they lost anyway.

Juliette Kayyem

The question is if the outbreak of SARS-CoV-2 and its tragic consequences will highlight the importance of competence and shift the election in favor of Joe Biden and the lady he picks as his running mate. Despite the alternative narrative offered by Mr. Trump and others in his administration, the mismanagement of the current crisis is as unprecedented in recent history as the pandemic itself is. According to Juliette Kayyem, who was Assistant Secretary for Intergovernmental Affairs in the Department of Homeland Security under Barak Obama and now teaches at the Harvard Kennedy School, this thing will go on for many months as a result of this administration’s incompetence.

In his remarks last week, Senator Kaine compared the situation in the U.S. with that of South Korea, and that same comparison has been in the media including The Guardian.

As I write this blog post on Sunday, May 10th, the United States is reporting almost 1.3 million confirmed cases and 79,000 deaths due to the outbreak. How much of all of this could have been prevented by mobilizing the nation and having a coordinated and rational response to the crisis? This we will never know but today is Mother’s day in the United States and it is heartbreaking to think of how many thousands of people are mourning their mothers as a result of the gross failure of leadership of this President of the United States.

I agreed with impeaching Trump for his misuse of power in the situation concerning Ukraine a few months ago but his behavior during the crisis has been much, much worse.  I can only hope the American electorate will throw him out of office in November. After that, let the court of history judge him guilty for the magnitude of this calamity for:

  • Cutting the pandemic response unit from the National Security Council
  • Failing to recognize the gravity of the situation
  • Emptying government of people skilled in crisis response
  • Ignoring the advice of the most credible scientists and public health officials
  • Mis-directing federal agencies concerning the importance of testing in the first weeks of the crisis
  • Sending conflicting messages to the nation’s Governors essentially putting all responsibility on them while at the same time encouraging people who are protesting shutdowns and other measures which they have put in place to slow the virus’ spread
  • Giving conflicting, inaccurate, and dangerous messages to the general public both on his twitter feed as well as the briefings he was conducting
  • Putting his own insatiable ego and political paranoia ahead of the pubic interest


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After the storm of criticisms received after one of his “briefings” shown above, President Trump stopped giving such briefings because they “were not worth his time”.

I had actually refrained from writing a post on this topic due to the degree to which this man, and the hateful politics he practices, upset me, and make it hard to stay optimistic and positive. What finally motivated me to write it was Sen. Kaine’s integrity and passion.

When Trump was first elected, I remember speaking to a very Sr. Executive at an event who assured me to not worry too much because “the republic has survived worse”. His words calmed me at that time and I come back to them now. yes, we have survived worse than this and I can only hope it get people to see how critically important competence really is when electing people to important office.