You get absolutely no argument from me that politicians are seemingly the most inept at their jobs; failing in delivering anything of substance for the public good when that public good is needed, and great at talking out of both sides of their mouths when they are aren’t flat out lying to constituents. Congress, the largest collection of politicians in one place in our government, can’t seem to agree on a damn thing and many times are seen as just endlessly bickering along party lines. Gawd… if we only had just one person in charge so much more could get done! (Sorry, I will NEVER surrender my vote to someone who says he/she “can delivery me from evil” by themselves. I want a president, not a messiah.)
Methinks that’s one good reason Mr. Trump has a steadfast following. A large segment of the voting public is disappointed (and that’s saying it very mildly) at Washington politicos and they are looking to Trump to change Washington politics. They (the followers of Trump) view his strength as a businessman outsider well above Mrs. Clinton’s political establishment history. There’s a hope that Trump will go into Washington and clean house and get things done… with little thought to the idea that he can’t even try to do that alone, and lately his political alliances (what few he even had) seem to be collapsing, so if he does end up triumphantly riding into D.C. he’s not going to have political buddies to help him out. Well, sadly, politicians or the politics game in Washington D.C. are not likely to change anytime soon, with or without Trump. The reason… American democracy (as a republic) works that way, and has since its creation, because of our Bill of Rights and our Constitution. No, I am not saying it’s written somewhere in the Constitution that Congress can do whatever they hell they want to slow up progress, reach decision stalemates, push the minority party members around, pass “bad” legislation, never agree with the President, constantly challenge the President, accept bribes for their votes, and simply ignore the will of the American people. But the Constitution does create Congress as one of the three viable branches of government that forms our unique system of checks and balances. Congress is where our nation debates policy, compromises, then passes bills. It’s the process for doing that, that has created the occupation of politician… and politicians are, unfortunately or not, human like the rest of us.
Well, the guys and gals who do this bidding for us in Congress are elected by us. That’s all elementary school civics. But since day one of our nation the role of those elected to public office, state or federal, has evolved into a generalized job description of “politician”… : a person experienced in the art or science of government; especially : one actively engaged in conducting the business of a government.
Now, that Merriam-Webster definition does not say a thing about a politician being required to lie, cheat, take graft, be involved in corruption, or sell out to those “special interests” everyone banters about, yet we all rather assume this risk is part and parcel to that occupation in some way because we have a 230+ year history of many politicians having fallen into those categories. .. regardless of party affiliation.
(Did you know only four U.S. presidents never held any elected office prior? Taylor, Grant, Hoover, and Eisenhower… and three of those were non-politician, populist ex-generals. Hoover was a mining engineer by trade before being selected as Secretary of Commerce, then being elected to the presidency. Historically speaking, Trump’s business credentials don’t seem to fit this bunch, although three of these ex-presidents were Republican, and all of them, like Trump, were not “politicians” in the true definition, when they entered the presidency. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Presidents_of_the_United_States_by_previous_experience )
In spite of the seedy historical under layer of corruption and “dirty tricks” attributed to politicians and their election campaigns, state or federal, the fact remains that those serving in politics, and Congress specifically, in this day and age, are really working in a tight environment. Over the decades controls have been put in place to limit campaign contributions and how they are used in order to limit any appearance of culpability in corrupting the system, there’s controls on contributions to political action committees (PAC’s) to reduce undue influence in getting sitting politicians re-elected, there’s controls on what constitutes “gifts” vs. an appearance of bribery or influence peddling, there are controls for lobbyists of those “special interests” and what they can do or not do when confronting members of Congress to present their side of an issue, and the list goes on. Of course things can still happen to corrupt a politician in some form. The system by far is not perfect in making each vote on each bill as “pure” as possible. More controls are likely in the future, especially in campaign finance reform. But as a nation we’ve come a long way since even 40 years ago.
But here’s the essence of what’s expected in being a politician in one word… compromise. Yes, it’s the old you-scratch-my-back-and-I’ll-scratch-your’s concept. We are humans and this is how we all exist in life. Our lives are full of compromises we all make in order to insure our own quality of life in some form. Bottom line.. WE are our own “special interest. If you live on a street where traffic from two major streets on either end constantly cuts through your street as a short cut… threatening to be a safety hazard to kids playing in the neighborhood… which argument do you use in presenting the closing off of one end of the street and making it into a much preferred cul-de-sac… a) to reduce non-neighborhood vehicle traffic so neighborhood kids are protected (in spite of actual kid count being very low), or b) do you tell the city council that the residents want the city to pay for closing off one end into a cul-de-sac in order to increase home resale values for the residents of that street? (True story, by the way. The residents used reason (a) obviously, and won, but it was reason (b) that only mattered to the residents in reality. They got a bump in property values at city expense with a cul-de-sac that wasn’t necessary.)
In Congress the process of cooperation starts with those pork barrel projects. It’s the appropriation of federal money for local projects generally (but not all the time) benefiting congressional districts in exchange for overall political party support. When you are a politician in Congress it’s critical that you become a specialist in this kind of compromise legislation if you want to stay in office. A lot of us voters complain about the excesses of pork spending and admittedly in many cases these earmarks are questionable as to their real value to anyone. But the process is a critical tool for elected representatives to get re-elected by their constituents… and continue to represent their party and their party’s control in Congress.
Ever hear of Sen. William Proxmire’s Golden Fleece Award? During his term serving the people of Wisconsin between 1970 and 1988 Proxmire came up with the idea of publishing the questionable excesses of pork spending. His first award was to the National Science Foundation who received a federal grant of $84,000 for a study on love. Proxmire defended his position with the following assessment…
“I object to this not only because no one—not even the National Science Foundation—can argue that falling in love is a science; not only because I’m sure that even if they spend $84 million or $84 billion they wouldn’t get an answer that anyone would believe. I’m also against it because I don’t want the answer. I believe that 200 million other Americans want to leave some things in life a mystery, and right on top of the things we don’t want to know is why a man falls in love with a woman and vice versa.”
During his term he awarded 168 pieces of pork legislation the Golden Fleece Award. Here are just a few…
- The NSF for spending $103,000 to compare aggressiveness in sun fish that drink tequila as opposed to gin[.
- Office of Education for spending $219,592 in a “curriculum package” to teach college students how to watch television[
- United States Department of Defense for a $3,000 study to determine if people in the military should carry umbrellas in the rain
- United States Department of the Army for a 1981 study on how to buy Worcestershire sauce.
The whole point of this post is to present some common sense regarding all this rhetoric about “needing to change Washington”… throw the bums out… whatever your phrase is. The “game” has worked for the last 200 years. Improve on it, sure. Regulate the performance of it’s members, of course. But events that occur that move politicians will continue to be cyclical… sometimes things move slowly, sometimes things move quickly (usually when one party dominates with the same president).
On the other side of the coin… everyone has to start somewhere and most politicians will tell you that when they first reached elected office and became a “politician” they were young, idealistic, and gung ho to change the world and make it a better place. Very few people start in this business with the idea to somehow get rich using graft and corruption. Then they quickly discovered that what they thought was “good” was not what their fellow congressmen thought was good… or even important. Suddenly you learn that the bill you introduced to build a bridge your district desperately needs over the creek would only pass if you agreed to a bill to drain a swamp in the middle of nowhere in another state that only favored local real estate developers (rent the movie starring Jimmy Stewart, “Mr. Smith Goes To Washington”). The process can turn you into a true cynic… or you learn to compensate and adapt, and compromise when you can for the greater good.. and learn to communicate with your constituents so you win re-election. It’s not about the art of the deal but rather the art of the compromise; sometimes it’s not a win-win for both sides. Sometimes it’s a “strategic retreat” in order for the larger payback later. Sometimes what you might want to do is indeed the right thing, but not yet time for the country to realize it. One case in point, in 1830 Congressman Davy Crockett from Tennessee voted against President Andrew Jackson’s Indian Relocation Bill of 1830. He was the only congressman from Tennessee to do so and his own district was not in favor of his vote. Crockett lost in a re-election bid the following year. He is quoted in his autobiography…
“I believed it was a wicked, unjust measure … I voted against this Indian bill, and my conscience yet tells me that I gave a good honest vote, and one that I believe will not make me ashamed in the day of judgement.”
History has judged the relocation of the native Americans, while nationally popular and seemingly moral and correct in those days, as being one of those events we reflect on with a level of shame today. Davy was ahead of his time.. and was proven morally right in his vote… yet at the time it cost him politically.
But the bottom line is, no matter which candidate wins the election, he or she will not be doing much unless they have the support of the majority in Congress. It’s when they don’t that will test their skills as a politician. If they have no political skill then they won’t be effective… and if they are not effective then they are simply another politician that can’t keep a promise. Then again, it gets votes if you say, “Read my lips; no new taxes!” Not as many votes if you say more honestly, “I will make every effort not to unduly raise taxes.” On the other hand, if you end up raising taxes and you said the first line, then you don’t get re-elected. Welcome to politics.
There is one perspective to think about between these two running for president. Trump constantly says, “I will…” and Clinton says, “WE will…”. In this case, I’ll take the seasoned politician over the amateur.