To many Harvard undergrads, Messrs Samuel B. Clark ’15 and Gus A. Mayopoulos ’15 may be the hugest pranks ever. Yet, many more may still be struggling to wrap their Ivy League heads around what The Harvard Crimson newspaper reported on the night of Thursday, November 21, 2013.
The two gentlemen filed nomination and contested for the offices of the President and the Vice President of the Undergraduate Council (UC). It also appears that they put much work into their campaign than any of their competitors. At the close of polls, their rather unusual slogan “You could do worse!” was rewarded with a good win of more than 1,375 of the 3,181 valid votes cast. They beat the first runner-up pair of C.C. Gong ’15 and Sietse K. Goffard ’15 with about 155. Chika-Dike O. Nwokike ’15 and Una Kim ’15 took the third position with humble 586 votes.
However, a couple of hours after the election results were announced and just before their supporters could pour out from their red-bricks into the Yard to start any form of celebrations, the two gentlemen were reported to have issued a statement to the Undergraduate Council Election Commission. In the statement, the two Harvard men shocked their colleagues with a declaration of their joint intention to resign the offices that they have campaigned for, won and are yet to be inducted into. They would do so immediately after they are sworn into office. They stated: “We technically can’t [resign] yet, but as soon as we can, we hereby resign the offices of President and Vice-President of the Harvard Undergraduate Council.”
While there can’t be a serious dispute over whether the two gentlemen are legally entitled to carry out what some thought would lead to constitutional crisis, a number of questions sprang up immediately. These questions may still hold even if the two didn’t carry their intention through. The questions: At what time did the two decide that they were no longer interested in leading the Council? Did they realise this just after winning the elections? In fact, did they ever intend to lead the students at all? While these question couldn’t readily be answered (at least not here), the conduct of these two sons of Harvard could offer an analytic for explaining some long-observed phenomenon in politics. For now, let’s just refer to this phenomenon as the “Clarklos” syndrome. The Clarklos syndrome may be considered as a situation where a person (or a group) wins political power only to realise that they are either unready, unwilling or unable to govern after all.
It isn’t uncommon to have governments win elections, come into power and not having any clearly thought-out objectives, aims or goals. A careful observation of some of these newly-elected governments shows that they struggle even with basic government functions such as appointment of minsters or secretaries, drawing of budgets, development plans, etc. Some polities, well-established democracies, due to the strength of their institutions, do not exhibit this difficulties in a profound form. Yet still one cannot completely rule out the existence of the syndrome in these advanced democracies. In this regard, it is superfluous to mention, even faintly, that the syndrome does exist in the underdeveloped and the developing polities.
In this case, the two Harvard men may not have ever desired to lead their colleagues, even before filing their nomination. In fact, they’ve been reported to have already indicated to their followers that they had “absolutely zero experience with anything to do with the UC.” It may also be the case that they intended to lead but, for whatever reason, later changed their minds. Be that as it may, Messrs Clark ’15 and Mayopoulos ’15 have lived the spirit of Veritas – they were very bold, honest and forthcoming with their unwillingness, unpreparedness, or inability to execute their term, for which reason they will resign immediately after they have been inducted into office.
In Real World Politics
The fact, however, is that most politicians in the real world, for whatever reason, don’t exercise this level of honesty and straightforwardness. They hang on to the entire term even in the teeth of their naked inability, unwillingness or unpreparedness. The reasons for this failure to come out may be varied and, sometimes, even rational or strategic. It may be just for preserving the confidence that the electorate have reposed in the newly-elected leader, in particular, or in the political party on whose back they rode to power, in general. It may, other times, be just because the elected leaders or their political parties view leadership differently – they may consider leadership as a skill that may be learned on-the-job from point zero. Yet in other cases, they just could not be bothered at all – after all other less prepared leaders have ran the full term before.
Whichever of the above it is, these leaders remain silent on the unpreparedness, unwillingness or inabilities while the term of office wore on. While some of these Clarklosic leaders pick up along the way (but not after they have spent a large part of the term battling their unpreparedness, inability or unwillingness to govern), others never overcome the syndrome.
The adverse effect of the Clarklos syndrome on development may be vast and catastrophic not just to the country over which the Clarklos leader rules, but also to the world at large. For example, a country which previously had been cruising on the road to success may, as a result of the syndrome, either be slowed down, stopped completely or even reversed. The consequences may be grave: the Millennium Development Goals may be a victim, the discourse on climate change or genetically modified organisms may be derailed, human rights protection may suffer, and international peace and security ultimately jeopardized.
Depending on how one looks at this, one may not be able to deny that the Clarklos syndrome is yet another faultline in the plate of modern democracy. Does democracy provide adequate mechanisms for electorates to easily detect the symptoms of the Clarkson syndrome? If so, what are they? If not, how could such mechanisms be built into the current models of democracy in order to avoid the adverse consequences named above? Do we have to start considering even another means of governance altogether?
It So Turned out
Anyways, on Tuesday, December 3, 2013, The Harvard Crimson, again, announced, but this time to the delight of the undergraduate community that their beloved Veep-elect, Gus A. Mayopoulos ’15, had reversed his decision and will serve the full term. The President-elect, Mr Sam B. Clark ’15, however, remained resolute and would resigned from the presidency immediately before his inauguration on the night of Sunday December 8, 2013. Apparently, the duo have been roommates since their freshman days and are the co-presidents of the on-campus comedy troupe – “On Thin Ice” (with Mr. Mayopoulos ’15 annexing the office of the president of Satire Vare, another on campus comedy group). Their campaign message was mounted not on the esoteric issues that usually characterises UC elections like gender neutral bathrooms, or how many elephants have stillbirths in the Amazon forest every year or whether the neanderthal man had bad breath. Theirs was a simple promise of just two things: tomato basil ravioli soup served daily in the dining halls and thicker toilet paper for all.