Monday, October 18, 2004

In Defense of Politicians

Beware: The following is longer than I like for blog entries, but it's all I got today.

I'm going to take an unpopular and, some will say, naive stand here but as the election gets closer, it seems more and more people grow weary of it and are starting to lash out at politicians. Some comments I've heard recently in my small office:

"They're all the same."
"They are all crooks."
"They're moneygrubbers and/or powerhungry."
"Don't want anything to do with them."

In my experience, politicians are not any of the above. In my pre-child life, I was the vice-chairman of the Campbell County (KY) Republican Party. This is the home county of U.S. Senator Jim Bunning. I've dealt with politicians from Sen. Bunning all the way down to County Commissioners, Sheriffs, State Reps, State Senators, and Gubernatorial candidates and the one thing I've learned is that whether Democrat or Republican running for office is not fun.

For the privelige of holding a relatively low paying office (these people usually give up a nice paying job), these guys get to sit in endless committee meetings, attend countless rubber chicken dinners, knock on endless doors asking for votes, give up their regular income, be absent from their families and all the while be called crooks or dirty politicians.

I've been at party fundraisers with them and to social occasions and even to their kid's birthday parties. I've seen them at their best and worst and, for the most part, they are good honest and decent people. Sure there are some fruitcakes, but these get weeded out pretty quick. In fact, unless the got alot of cash, we merciless eliminated these people from our midst.

In a campaign, there is an element of excitement and the public recognition is satisfying, but those benefits quickly fade as an incentive.

Many times, politicians start a campaign because of a sense of obligation and duty. Whether Democrat or Republican, they honestly feel that they can help out in some way. Many times, they are just plain afraid of the other guy running.

Take the first charge from above - that all politicians are the same. No, they are not. Carter wasn't the same a Reagan, Nixon and Kennedy were not the same, and Bush and Kerry are not. While the idelogical differences fade as you run down the ticket, even county commissioners are different. The problem is that the "all the same" charge is - like many of the other charges - a cop-out. It's given by people who are too lazy to find out what the differences really are. I'm not dealing with talk show hosts or other politicians. I mean I've heard this charge from regular ol' office and factory workers. It's just laziness. How many of these citizens have actually spoken with their State Senator or Rep or County Official- that is, before you have a complaint. During election year, they're everywhere. It isn't hard to go see one. Most are listed in the phone book. But I guess it's easier to just bitch.

The next charge that they are all crooks is just another a cop out. Do you know how hard it is to get away with anything? Most of the "scandals" that I've read about or even been slightly close to are not so much a greedy politician fanagling some kickback but some poor guy tripping over some obscure campaign law. At the low level I operated at, we needed a CPA just to keep the checkbook balanced. Furthermore, multiple reports were required with multiple deadlines-oftentimes conflicting with one another. The punishment for missing those often involved some kind of montary punishment or even jailtime. Try to get someone to volunteer their time to be the party treasurer or a campaign treasurer when a mistake can cost them dearly. I've done it. It isn't fun or easy. This isn't keeping the money box at the PTA bake sale.

The next charge that they are all money grubbers or greedy dovetails in with the crook charge. After giving it a minutes thought, the charge is ludicrious. Look at most Congressman or Senators or even at the state level. For the amount of work that goes into getting elected and then fulfilling office, there is very little financially to gain. And even at the lowest levels, the reports and deadlines are costly and there's always some reporter going over them looking not so much for a crime, but a clerical error. Again, most of these people give up very good careers to do this.

I'm not naive, I know there's some real jerks out there, but many times, when these guys are jerks, they are doing so because they think what they are doing is the right thing. That's not an excuse, but an explanation.

At the core of my irritation with people who assign all politicians to the crook bin is twofold. Usually, the person doing so is some lazy idiot who won't attend his kid's parent-teacher meeting, much less do a fraction of the work he demands of our politicians at the lowest levels.

More importantly, I think that this frame of mind is dangerous to democracy. This is along the lines of the arguement that the Bush=Hitler crazies are holocaust denyers. I know that sounds serious, but think about it. How hard is it to convince some lazy jackass that doesn't trust politicians that we don't really need the vote to begin with? That an easier more effective solution is to put experts in charge. I don't think too hard. This extends to those on the left who still say Bush stole the election and those on the right who thought the Clinton presidency was invalid.

Do yourself a favor over the next two weeks: thank a politician for working for you.

Stay You.

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