Politicians and Why We Need Them

Some time in 2002, in an offline forum, I made the comment that I thought Al Gore would be doing a better job with then-current world events (post-Sept. 11) than George Bush. Mostly I got agreement, but one particpant said "Probably not; after all, he's just another politician."

Yes, that's true, he is a politician. Our government consists of career civil servants, appointed officials, and elected officials.the city council members, state senators, county board of education members, mayors, aldermen, and Congresscritters who go to meetings, make laws, pass budgets, and so on.

I would like to put in a good word for our elected officials. It's absolutely true that a lot of them are stinkers who suffer from various kinds of corrupt behavior, wicked amibitions, and bigoted beliefs. They're no different, in this way, from many or most of our fellow citizens, although you.d hope that public servants actually try to improve themselves and to really represent the public.

I think that it's hard work keeping a government of any size going. Heck, it's difficult running a dojo with 30 members. At least I don't have to run for re-election, have my family in the public eye, possibly be separated from my family for months at a time, raise re-election funds, deal with crazy people in the general public, belong to all kinds of committees, negotiate with members of the opposition to pass legislation, etc. I myself am glad there are people willing to do this kind of work. It's important to have a functioning government, and I'm not very well suited to the kind of work it takes to keep a government working.

I also notice that, unfortunately, because it is such hard work and involves so many compromises, people like you and me don't seem to be running in droves for elected office. I think this is a sad state of affairs, but I'm not sure what to do about it, other than serious campaign finance reform. It is clear to me that many of my friends and co-workers would be better, or at least more idealistic and honest, than the people who occupy many elected offices in this country. We just don't have the stomach, inclination, experience, or toughness to get involved in that particular way; to do the fund-raising and if we're elected to make the compromises necessary to create and pass legislation.

Somebody sometime said that politics is the art of the possible. Somebody else compared sausage making to a session of Congress ("you don't want to know what goes into the legislation or the sausage"). I think both are true; I think messy compromises of various kinds will always be necessary to keep the government functioning, since we're never going to have a government where everybody agrees on what needs to be done and how. I don't think I want such a government, either, given the views that would probably be represented and/or the repression necessary to produce 100% agreement. I would like more diversity of opinion and party affiliation among our elected officials at the same time that I dread a situation where, say, the National Right to Life Party's representatives had the same position in a Congressional bloc that some of the far-right parties have in Israel's Parliament.

So, go ahead and accuse Al Gore of being a politician. It's absolutely true; he is. I just wish he were the President right now. I don't think he'd be looking for a Congressional resolution backing war on Iraq.

Written Fall, 2002; revised September, 2003