Tuesday, March 18, 2008

In defense of politicians

On Sunday night we were playing Apples to Apples with a bunch of people. One young man chose "politicians" as the winning card to go with something like "corrupt" or "sleazy". I hate this attitude in folks, and specially in young people. By the very nature of American politics, those interested in going into service are motivated by doing just that, serving. It is undeniable that once great power or wealth is achieved in any field, corruption is a temptation, however, unlike service, corruption is not endemic to politicians' very nature.

Robert A. Heinlein wrote his "THIS I BELIEVE" in 1952, in which he states:

"I believe that almost all politicians are honest ... there are hundreds of politicians, low paid or not paid at all, doing their level best without thanks or glory to make our system work. If this were not true we would never have gotten past the 13 colonies.

"I believe in Rodger Young. You and I are free today because of endless unnamed heroes from Valley Forge to the Yalu River. I believe in -- I am proud to belong to -- the United States. Despite shortcomings from lynchings to bad faith in high places, our nation has had the most decent and kindly internal practices and foreign policies to be found anywhere in history."

I think that's true.


elrj said...

You really think most politicians are honest?
Yeah, I guess I'm part of your blanket statement: I totally don't. Maybe small town, low level politicians are honest, but my personal experience there even says "nope".
Love to talk about this more.... what makes you think they're honest?

andersonrc1 said...

If this were not the case, we would be in Russia. What I mean is, stories of scandal are the exception, not the norm. That's why they are big stories. One should not allow one's perception of the world be dictated by the quantity of salacious news that is directed to us daily by a medium that thrives on there being something to sell.

Politicians for the most part are underpaid servants of the community. To disparage them, one must mean that either the act of politics itself is a corrupting one or that all people who enter into politics are corrupt. The first can be dismissed by recalling that Politics is endemic to the nature of man, just as family and religion are. Those activities themselves cannot be corrupting. The second is a logical fallacy and a statistical improbability.

Furthermore, it is distinctly unhealthy and wrong to foster a notion of the role as being corrupting, Christ himself calls us to honor the positions of authority over us.

To be sure that with power, or wealth, or any other this worldly success there are great temptations to abuse the position that one has been given. However, the temptation to abuse position, does not imply that the position itself is corrupt or corrupting.


On a personal note, I have lived around the Beltway for my entire life. One would think that of all people, I would be marked by the same cynicism that most are with regard to politicians. I am not. I think it would be safe to say that most of the people I have known throughout my life have been in some way related to Washington, and most of them are hardworking individuals who have boundless energy to serve their community and country.

You may reply that perhaps these circles in which I am regularly surrounded present a minority, rather than a majority, since they are mainly conservatives or Christians. My Grandfather served in Congress for 22 years, and then was a Governor in the Midwest. I can relate his testimony as authoritative, that this is not the case.

It is rather, an unfortunate and easy habit of mind touted by cynics.

elrj said...

Strong words. You have thus far implied that I am a cynic, believing whatever is dictated to me by the evil media, because that is the easy route: in this case, the media told me to think politicians are louts.

Can we have the evil media discussion at another time, because I think politics and media in the present era in America are not as far separated as we may wish. But we should put that aside or we will lose our focus. For now I can say that I have not owned a TV in 10 years, and choose not to read news papers or other such sensationalist garbage, so I'm thinking the media thing might not apply to me.

I think your assumption that those who get into politics do so to be the "underpaid servants of the community" ignores the sin nature of mankind. Let's say 50% get into politics for that reason, while the other 50% get into politics for power, position, financial/other gains. Would you consider that an unfair split? A ridiculous postulation? An unnecessary either or? Because you make it sound like all people get into politics with good, wholesome intentions. I'm afraid that's just not how the world is.

In fact, man's sin nature is precisely why I would, at any time and in any place, assume politics would be a teeny bit more corrupt than the general population: because wicked men seek positions of power and affluence for their own gain, or to oppress others.

I do not think this opinion challenges or negates Christ's mandate to honor those in positions of authority over us. When He gave the mandate, the government suffered some corruption, even on the local level as He was soon to face a rigged trial on trumped up charges! I don't think admitting there is corruption in a body "foster[s] a notion of the role as being corrupting".

Historically, generally, those with great power, whether political or monetary, battle daily the evil within. The idea "power corrupts" whether accurate or not, was not created on a whim, but on observation of events. And politicians have been the but of sleaze jokes for centuries, throughout cultures, so I don't think it's just the magic media's doing here.

elrj said...

So, now that the election is much closer, do you still maintain that politicians are generally honest?

Bark Savage said...

Tonight, elrj, I'll be voting with a local governmental board on whether to approve construction in our historic district.

Our city council just approved a way-finding plan, and installed bike racks in the city and approved funding for new city buses.

I was recently in Texas, and sat down with local building officials to discuss with Federal liaisons whether to begin issuing electrical permits for post disaster reconstruction, and discussing state mandated priorities.

THAT is politics. THOSE are politicians.

Heinlein's comment was particular to America and American government, and it stands sufficient. Politicians are not "particularly" honest or "peculiarly" decent, but they are generally so.

Whether they also are subject to greed, lust, envy, sloth etc is not terribly relevant. They remain, evidently, human. Your calculus of sin nature and percentile involvement in politics is not terribly helpful.

Robery Dabney wrote, "Now, questions of politics must ever divide the minds of men; for they are not decided by any recognized standards of truth, but by the competitions of interest and passion."

Interest and passion. Very human things. But politicians, especially Christian politicians are in particular positions to do good. That possibility alone, devoid of the reality of how much pragmatic passion and interest are rationally and morally applied every day in America, makes politics are noble endeavor in theory. And the vast majority of politicians get up earlier than you, stay at work later, and are, in fact, underpaid for the work they do.

Whether you wish to judge an entire enterprise by the two most prominent figures in Politics (and how you judge them) is of course your business. But the notion of "most politicians" and the general honesty thereof is attested to every time you sit at a stoplight, or walk into a new business in your town, or go to the Smithsonian or hear a siren.

As has been noted, the difference is reasonably clear considering Russia.

The blanket notion of "corruption in a body" is, beyond being improper, simply not supportable.

I know that because I vote for and with politicians.