COMMENTARY: Nerds, wonks, engineers and politics -

COMMENTARY: Nerds, wonks, engineers and politics


Watching this year's bailout debates in the U.S. Congress and theCongressional/Presidentialcampaigns on C-SPAN hasconvinced me that American citizens have got to stop choosing ourelected representatives based on any criteria other than theirqualifications to run a complex government in an even more complicated world.

Many of us vote for candidates based only on personality and whether theymake us feel good about ourselves or are people we would like to inviteinto our homes. Instead, what we need are techno-nerds and policy wonks.

We owe our well-crafted democratic form of government with itscleverly designed system of checks and balances, to a weirdbunch of policy, technology, and scientific wonks and nerds such asBenjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, and AlexanderHamilton.

These guys and their compatriots were the kind of wonks and nerds,who, when presented with a problem and a complex system to analyze andpossibly replicate, threw themselves into learning as much about it aspossible. Some were best at policy, and others were best at technology,and some, like Jefferson and Franklin were outstanding contributors toboth. 

But today – because some of them did not exactly have winningpersonalities and others had personal morality issues – few would havelittle chance of getting elected. Which is a shame because not only didthey have the desire, education and life experience to deal with such problems, they also had what Walter Lippmann – a premierpolitical journalist of past decades – called “civic virtue.,”

No matter how doubtful their personal morality or different theirpersonal beliefs, their allegence to the principles of our civicculture – the various freedoms, the Constitution, an abiding belief inrepresentative democracy, and an ingrained impulse to be of service totheir fellow citizens – was pristine pure.

They were also able toput aside, for a while, their passionate adherence to particularideologies.  And because they were not “true believers,” they wereable to come up with commonly agreed-upon compromises, the essence ofeffective representative democracy.

We now desperately need a new generation of such wonks and nerds torepair our delicately balanced system of government which has beencrippled through our mis-directed passions and either/or advocacies.

And while these wonks and nerds are at it, maybe they can come upwitha set of self-regulating checks and balances to protect our financialsystem from our own worst instincts, modeled on what our “foundingnerdsand wonks” built into our U.S. Constitution.

The wonks and nerds we need to run for political office andtakedirect control are out there. Some I see working within governmentadvising the politicials, such as engineering nerd and ecomomics wonk Neel Kashkari,the interim assistant secretary in the U.S. Treasury assigned with theresponsibilty for managing the financial bailout. Others I meetat the embedded system design, science, and technology meetings Iattend and write about.

Many of you are satisfied and busy with the work you trained for.Others may have a complete disdain for politics and politicians. Butremember our representative democracy was designed as a “goverment OFthe people, BY the people and FOR the people.” 

The reasonpolitics has become an object of contempt is that we have let ourgovernment become one of, by and for politicial careerists, lawyers,and lobbyists. If you don't want to run for office, at least rethinkthe criteria by which you elect people to political office.

What do you think? Read Jack Ganssle'sinsightful and thought-provoking Break Point column on “Electoral Polls and Engineers,”and leave your comments there. Also, take time to vote in the Embedded.comPoll on the Home Page. The question this week: “Who's yourPresidential candidate?”

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