12 July 2017

Is Crazy A Discrete Or A Continuous Quantity In Politicians?

Some politicians are crazier than other politicians, with the term "crazy" in this sense, referring to someone whose views and worldview are very far outside the mainstream.

When I was in college, we had Representative James Traficant (who was initially a Democrat and became an independent later on), from Youngstown, Ohio a town that was hard hit by the decline of manufacturing in the rust belt, who ended his off the wall floor speeches in Congress with his trademark line from Star Trek, "Beam Me Up Scotty." 

At the moment, we have lots of other crazy politicians.

We have President Donald Trump who has no difficulty calling white black on a daily basis.

We have Vice President Pence, who worries about being corrupted by having lunch alone with a woman on professional matters and advances a Dominionist ideology.

Ted Cruz, in his campaign for the 2016 Presidential nomination somehow thought that banning birth control was one of the nation's most urgent priorities.

Further down the pecking order, is Butler County Sheriff Rick Jones, who among his many extreme and misguided positions, refuses to equip his deputies with Narcan, a drug which can almost miraculously prevent someone from dying from heroin overdoses, because he thinks that people who overdose on drugs deserve to die.

Somehow (and political theory can explain in part why this is particularly prone to happen in a two party system with closed primaries for each political party), extremists are vastly overrepresented in public office (as well as people who commit crimes).

Of course, there are plenty of politicians who aren't nearly so crazy. To pick one example from the other side of the aisle here in Colorado, former Attorney General and Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers is not nearly as extreme as many of his Republican peers. I still disagree with him on most issues, but he comes from the establishment wing of the Republican Party, not the Conspiracy Theorist wing of the party.

The question I'm wondering about today, which spurred this post as a reminder to keep investigating it (I won't answer it in this post), is whether "crazy", as I've loosely defined it, among politicians holding elected office, is basically a smooth continuum, or if it instead is more of a discrete quantity with clearly clustered levels of crazy?

If crazy is a discrete quantity, then the ways to address it in our political system and ideally, to minimize its importance in the process, leads to one kind of approach (e.g. well informed screening processes for candidates to remove bad apples and effective processes to remove existing officials who "cross the line" too far, too many times).

If crazy is a continuous quantity in elected politicians, in contrast, then the ways to address it in our political system are probably different (e.g. movement politics and shifts in the behavior or character of the median voter in each district). This is because if crazy is a continuous quantity, then developing institutions that deprive the very most extreme politicians from power doesn't do much good as it only incrementally changes to political balance.

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