With election day coming up soon, this will probably be my last political post for a while (except that I may have to do another post with the results of election day). I just want to say a few words about politicians themselves and what I think politicians should be and should do. Hopefully, I’ll have a few candidates to choose from that meet my criteria.
I don’t believe in professional Politicians – As I look at US politics and politicians, I am not a fan of the whole career politician idea. Being in congress should not be a career. I am not usually one to draw on the “Founding Fathers” and claim to know what they wanted, even if what they wanted were still viable in our modern world, but as I read the documents surrounding the founding of this government, it becomes clear to me that they never intended for people to aspire to sit in Congress for the rest of their lives. They envisioned average citizens giving up their personal careers for a length of time, and then returning to their normal careers after their term in Congress was over. I think we have too many politicians who are constantly running for reelection and ‘playing the political game’ rather than doing what they were sent to Congress to do.
And so, I was impressed when Jon Huntsman ran in the Republican Primary talking about putting term limits on Congress. That sounds like a great idea! We have term limits on the President, why not on other elected officials? But then, I was watching The West Wing and there is a scene that has a quick line from a speech being given by President Bartlet where he says, “It turns out we have term limits. They’re called elections.” I agree with that idea, in theory, but I also know that incumbents have a lot of power and political influence that allow them to stay incumbent. That President Barltet quote earlier actually has a sentence that precedes it, “When the playing field is leveled and the process is fair and open, it turns out we have term limits. They’re called elections.” That is key – When the playing field is leveled and the process is fair and open, then elections serve as well, if not better than term limits. But the argument can be made, if the American people are smart enough not to reelect bad politicians to the House of Representatives or the Senate, then why do we have a term limit on the Presidency? Are we smart enough with Congress but too stupid when it comes to the Presidency?
What is the role of politicians? This is a question that I have asked myself and pondered for some time. I haven’t come to a conclusion, yet, but I’ve had some great thoughts on the subject. First, the United States of America is not actually a Democracy. In a Democracy laws are made by the voice of the people. The United States is actually a Republic, where laws are made by representatives. Which means that those politicians that we elect should be acting in our behalf, enacting those laws that we want them to, they should be listening to the voice of the people and making their decisions based on what their constituents want. If we find that our representatives are not acting the way we want them to, we elect different representatives.
But, what of the moral obligation our politicians should have? Should they be followers only, listening to the people and doing only exactly what the people want? Or should be leaders, individuals of vision who try to take the country in bold, new directions, regardless of what the people have asked for. There is another scene from The West Wing that impresses me (My wife and I have been watching a lot of West Wing recently, if you couldn’t tell), where just after the President delivers his State of the Union Address one of his advisors is desperate to get the polling data on the reaction of voters in certain districts to see how a particular policy shift was received to see if they would have support of the Representatives from those districts. When it turns out that the speech was not received so well in those districts he says that they’ll probably have to give up on the policy idea since they do not have the support for it. One of the other characters, though, tells him that instead they need to work harder. She says that they obviously haven’t convinced those voters yet, and therefore need to work harder on their message to get the point across.
Which of these situations best reflects how we see our elected political figures? Do we see them as servants of the people, dependent on the people for their every action or do we want them to be visionary leaders who have the country’s best interests at heart, regardless of what the people have said they want? We can take Switzerland as a case in point, they have a pure democracy, with every citizen voting on all decisions, but they did not grant women the right to vote until 1971, because each time it came to a vote, the men who had the right to vote, voted against it. It was only in 1971, with political pressure from the rest of Europe that they finally allowed universal women’s suffrage, though some Cantons did allow women to vote earlier than that. I believe there are certain instances where politicians should rise above what the people want, for the greater good, and do what needs to be done. But, because of the way our elections are set up, we have the opportunity to change our elected officials if we don’t like what they are doing or have done.
In the end, I think I like that balance. We do expect our politicians, especially our Presidents, to be great men with great plans for the future of this country, but we also only vote for the guy whose policies we most agree with. They derive their political power from the people who vote for them and are beholden to the public when re-election comes around, but in the years between, we want them to lead us forward to a glorious, prosperous future.
What are your thoughts? What do you want from your elected politicians? Was I way off with my analysis here? Please, I’d like this post to be the starting point for a civilized discussion about government and politics, what do you think about this?