By Morf Morford
Tacoma Daily Index
Why do we all hate politicians?
Let me count the ways….
It takes a special breed to be a politician – you have to be idealistic and driven, ruthless in some ways, conciliatory in others, and, in our era of 24-hour media coverage, always look good for the camera.
Having the perfect spouse and well-behaved kids never hurts either.
You’d think being in the public eye nearly constantly would keep our public officials honest or at least consistent.
And you’d think that the responsibility and privilege of being in public service would bring out the best in people.
At least that’s what I’ve always thought.
But somehow political office seems to have brought out the worst, or maybe the least, and certainly sometimes the most cruel, corrupt and incompetent from among us.
As former New Jersey Governor, and common political talk show commentator, Chris Christie put it, politics seems to attract (and reward) a “revolving door of deeply flawed individuals — amateurs, grifters, weaklings, convicted and unconvicted felons — who were hustled into jobs they were never suited for, sometimes seemingly without so much as a background check via Google or Wikipedia.”
But it is not just street-level corruption, greed and opportunism that seems to be at work here.
There’s a level of cynicism, aloofness and seeming imperviousness to standard laws and rules that, by some divine fate, they get to write or set or even enforce, but by some equally near-miraculous force, apply to everyone but them.
There’s nothing new about this – and, believe it or not, nothing politically partisan about it.
As Ambrose Bierce put it over a hundred years ago in his “dictionary;
“POLITICS, n. A strife of interests masquerading as a contest of principles. The conduct of public affairs for private advantage.”
It’s not just we, non-politicians who feel this way. Our own representative Rep. Derek Kilmer, D-Wash., put it this way, “The fact that Congress, according to recent polling, is held in lower regard than head lice, colonoscopies and the band Nickelback is some indication that the public doesn’t hold Congress in high regard.” https://www.npr.org/2020/12/26/949286593/a-tale-of-bipartisanship-in-congress-no-seriously?
You could make the argument that politicians can’t help it; each politician has a virtual army of handlers, aiders and abettors who facilitate, confirm and advocate, if not justify public political behavior.
As a Congressman, (and soon to be president) James Garfield stated at the 100th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence, July 4, 1876: “Now more than ever before, the people are responsible for the character of their Congress. If that body be ignorant, reckless, and corrupt, it is because the people tolerate ignorance, recklessness, and corruption.”
Naively apparently, I keep assuming that idealism, decency and a sense of community service will emerge, but no, it seems like there is a constant competition to be the most shallow, money (or publicity) grubbing hypocrite out there.
Catastrophe sometimes, I have heard, draws out the best in people.
Not on our political horizon.
We seem to have catastrophes and challenges on every horizon, from homelessness, to the retail apocalypse, to climate change, to the reconfiguration of public education, to the rising cost of housing to the explosion of unemployment to a dozen more, we have difficulties aplenty, but where are the heroes and prophets to lead us out of the desert and into the promised land?
Instead, we seem to see the opposite.
Remember those dismissers of COVID, you know, the ones that went to all the big rallies and yes, even held huge holiday parties and mocked those who wore masks and socially distanced? Those who claimed that COVID was no worse than the annual flu?
Yes, you know them, and you also know that they were the first to get the COVID vaccine.
Yes, before first responders and the medically vulnerable. It takes a special kind of hypocrite to expect – and receive – care like that.
How many politicians have your heard of who railed against any aspect of “marriage equality” – until a close relative of theirs came out as LGBTQ?
How many politicians (including the wife of a prominent conservative president) rallied against the use of fetal tissue in medical research – until it was found to be of use in treating their family members against Alzheimer’s and similar diseases. (Fetal tissue is also a key ingredient in the COVID vaccine – even Pope Francis recognizes that the use of fetal tissue to save lives is a legitimate -if not ultimately positive – use of such material).
When it comes to pay scales, if the minimum wage is so great, maybe that’s what we should pay our members of Congress.
The minimum wage, by the way, was intended to be a minimum ‘living wage.’ A forty-hour week at minimum wage (of one person) should be able to provide basic housing, utilities, food and a few other necessities for a family.
The minimum wage was never meant to be a “training” wage or for under-age workers.
If it’s good enough for us, it’s good enough for them.
For better or worse, no political party, and no region has a monopoly on, or immunity from corruption or sheer galactic-level stupidity.
In a political event nearly lost to history, we in Tacoma had a recall of five City Council members (and yes, that means a majority). This was way back in 1970, and was big enough news to be reported in The New York Times –https://www.nytimes.com/1970/09/17/archives/tacoma-in-recall-election-votes-five-councilmen-out-of-office.html.
You can see a letter about it to then-governor Dan Evans here.
It was a popular re-call based on malfeasance and real or perceived bias and, to put it mildly, lack of confidence in their capability to govern fairly and with integrity.
One fall-out of the recall was the appointment of Harold Moss as a city council member. Moss went on to become Tacoma’s first Black mayor – and mentor to many currently holding office in and around Tacoma.
In short, the old adage about politics being like sausage-making still seems to hold true: Laws are like sausages — it is best not to see them being made.
Mark Twain had a few pungent observations about politicians and their duty. Here are just a few;
Politicians and diapers must be changed often, and for the same reason.
It could probably be shown by facts and figures that there is no distinctly native criminal class except Congress.
The political and commercial morals of the United States are not merely food for laughter, they are an entire banquet.
The government is merely a servant – merely a temporary servant; it cannot be its prerogative to determine what is right and what is wrong, and decide who is a patriot and who isn’t. Its function is to obey orders, not originate them.
The radical of one century is the conservative of the next. The radical invents the views. When he has worn them out, the conservative adopt.
Imagine, if you will, that I am an idiot. Then, imagine that I am also a Congressman. But, alas, I repeat myself.
What strikes me is how little has changed – both in behavior and in our contempt for it.
Maybe it time to pass a law or Constitutional Amendment that any law that is good enough for us, is good enough for our politicians, and that we expect our politicians to lead instead of cower in the face of difficulty.
Any law or rule or law that is fair and just for us, is fair and just for all. If it’s right for us, it’s right for everyone, and if it’s not right for them, it’s probably not right for us either.
Is that too much to ask?