9.04.2008

Politics...fer Real Now

I just got a request, and you know that when you request I try my derndest to comply. So, back story: my good friend Christin has asked that I write a political post. More than happy to oblige, Christin. However, I feel like I need to take this one a bit more seriously and less satirically than usual. Why? Because it's late and I'm tired and I'm feeling nostalgic and I think it's actually really, really important. (TWO reallys. It's that important.) Sometimes people wonder what my real political viewpoints are--am I a fiscal conservative trapped inside the stunning law-student-body of a social libertarian? Am I a Republicrat? Am I apathetic? Am I (shudder) a Republican? Am I (hiss) a Democrat? Well, after reading this post, I don't think you're going to have any better clue than you already had. When it comes to politics, I'm cynical and sometimes bitter about the whole process. I'm constantly disillusioned. Even feel-good-story-of-the-moment VP nominee, Sarah Palin, has some not-so-feel-good baggage stashed away on the Straight Talk Express. I bring this up because it perfectly illustrates my point: The era of the public servant is dead. Long live the politician. Don't get me confused here. There are plenty of hard-working, dedicated, fantastic public servants out there. Erin's mom is the Mayor of Kaysville, and the living epitome of this-- concerned with, devoted to, and working for the welfare of her city and its citizens. I've seen her do it. It's impressive. But more and more, Mayor Roundy is becoming the glowing exception to the self-aggrandizing rule. This shrinking dichotomy is especially noticeable on the grander, more national scale. These "servants of the public interest" just tend to get less concerned with the public and more and more self-interested. It's sad. It's stupid. But it's human nature. I may be generalizing quite a bit here, but I think the human race as a whole is a lot like a mockingbird. When we see shiny stuff we grab at it. We can't help it. We're just interested in it at first. Technology is shiny. Fashion is shiny. Power is shiny. So when someone wafts that tantalizing scent of power our way, it's the most natural response to follow the scent and make a grab for it. The problem with that is, we as a nation don't want the natural reaction. The natural reaction has led to the most attrocious acts in history. War is, at its root, a natural reaction. Bill Clinton was a living natural reaction during his term of office. So was Richard Nixon. Power grabs, lobbyism, partisanship, pork barrel spending, debts--all natural reactions. So, whatever happened to the days when amazing men and women went to Washington, served one or two terms, made differences, made changes, represented their people, and fought for principle? What happened to the people who would really effect change? What happened to the public servants who went in to Washington, eschewed the natural reaction and stepped down or away from their pedestals? Where have they gone? The career track politician has swallowed them up. A very famous Utah Senator once ran on the campaign slogan that three terms from the incumbent Senator were too many years for any politician. That 18 years was just too much time to languish on the Potomac; that, with the passage of time, this senator had lost touch with his constituency. 30+ years later and you'd never hear Orrin Hatch make the same argument today. He's got seniority, he's got pull, he's got sway, he can make a difference with the connections and power he's gathered together. And I can't dispute that. The man is right. And he's generally done an excellent job in the Senate. But he's gonna have at least 36 years in the Senate before he might even leave office. Twice as much as the senator he replaced--Frank Moss. Has Orrin lost touch with his constituents? I don't know. But by his logic, he has. At the end of the day, I try to keep myself educated, up to date with the issues, and try and make decisions according to my own beliefs and convictions. To join one of the "teams" (ironically the Red or the Blue) and just follow the party line because that's what the team believes makes me sad. And I worry so much that our nation has sharply divided itself into teams, drawing a line in the sand with issue after issue. Stand on one side and you're OK. Stand on the other side, and you're the enemy. Worse, many times, the teams don't determine their side of the issue until they find out what the "other" guys think about it. Reactionary politics is a dangerous game. It leads to extremism in both policy and decision-making. Think I'm a radical? Think I'm too wishy-washy to dive into the "game?" Listen to what George Washington had to say at his farewell speech in 1796: "[Political parties] serve to organize faction, to give it an artificial and extraordinary force; to put, in the place of the delegated will of the nation, the will of a party, often a small but artful and enterprising minority of the community; and, according to the alternate triumphs of different parties, to make the public administration the mirror of the ill-concerted and incongruous projects of faction, rather than the organ of consistent and wholesome plans digested by common counsels, and modified by mutual interests. "However combinations or associations of the above description may now and then answer popular ends, they are likely, in the course of time and things, to become potent engines, by which cunning, ambitious, and unprincipled men will be enabled to subvert the power of the people, and to usurp for themselves the reins of government; destroying afterwards the very engines, which have lifted them to unjust dominion." And so, in this season of politicking, vote-garnering, stumping, speaking, and debates, it's more important than ever that we REALLY study the candidates and their views, and vote with our consciences and a healthy dose of reason. Don't just listen to your party. Don't ignore the "other" guy. Please study, please vote, please make the right choice. What that choice is, I won't tell you. That's one of the beauties of Democracy. So, there you have it, one of my rare serious posts. But until then, you can count on me lampooning both sides of the aisle. If nothing else, political satire will always enjoy a special place in my heart.

8 comments:

SGarff said...

“What happened to the public servants who went in to Washington, eschewed the natural reaction and stepped down or away from their pedestals?”

I think that you have a point about politicians replacing public servants but I also think that history has a tendency to sort people out into categories that are more black and white than those figures actually were. And that is why we often look back in time and see it populated with heroes, villains, romantics, Idealists, etc... In reality there are no good guys and bad guys. History just likes to simplify things that way. But then again so do political parties.

Kenny said...

Very well said.

Regarding national politics: when you're riding that particular bull, all your energy goes into staying on top of it--forget taking it in any particular direction.

Sgarff's point about history is not without merit, but I think it is overly cynical. The fact that history builds consensus regarding heroes and villains doesn't mean they don't exist now--they're just harder to spot because we're often "too close" to the situation.

Anyhow, we still have a lot of great public servants in the government, but moving beyond local or perhaps state politics usually requires just the sort of power-hungry attitude we'd like to discourage in our so-called "leaders." Exceptions do exist, but you're right to note that they are rare.

KEW said...

Well said my friend. Well said indeed.

t.t.turner said...

Amen, Eric. I love this quote from David Brooks (NY Times) on NPR August 22nd:
"I think people are going to take a look at this big contretemps and they’re just going to see stupid politics. They’re going to see a bunch of stupid ads on a stupid issue, attacking each other in nasty and stupid ways, which have nothing to do with what people care about. And it’s a dissent very early in the process to an extremely dumb level of politics (I think much earlier in the process than we’re used to). And who does this hurt most? It hurts them both, because they both promised to be 'new politics' and post-political,' and now they seem utterly conventional and utterly depressing, even for those of us who admire both of them."

Erin said...

Very interesting... thanks. I agree with the plug that it's important to research as much as possible and then pick a candidate we think is the right fit. P.S. Thanks for your words about Mayor Roundy. I'm sure she appreciates it, and I do too.

Cotter said...

true true

Mel said...

I so agree with you! Politics gives me a headache. Even I, who loves a good fight, get so tired of the "line in the sand" mentality and the reactionary politics you mention. It's so hard not to be completely disillusioned by it all. Thank goodness you exist to put a humorous spin on things with your political satire.

Christin said...

Thank you Eric! I love that, and I admit that sometimes I get caught up with one party over the other, when in reality they both have good. I agree that it is important to research each candidate carefully and vote for the best one based on your own reasoning, thanks for the reminder. The campaign is getting so ugly! Sometimes I just want to hear someone say "you know things were pretty good about 20 years ago lets go back to that" instead of all of this talk of change.