“Bad officials are elected by good citizens who do not vote.” ~George Jean Nathan
So often I hear about the fallibility of politicians. How corrupt they are. How honest, down-to-earth folk should avoid pursuing a life in this element of public service, because of what it does to a person’s moral center. There are times when I have to agree. The countless politicians who take the side of the rich power brokers in our society (the fabled one percent if you will). Those who run as values candidates only to fall to the weakness of their own sexual temptations. Infamous flip-floppers like current Republican presidential nominee candidate, Mitt Romney. So why then, despite all of this do I continue to believe in our elected officials? Mainly, because I think our system is only as good as the citizens who engage in it and at the end of the day, when the dust clears, we are all human beings susceptible to corruption and failure. It is with thought in mind, I submit my theories on why politicians should be accountable rather than merely written off as corrupt smooth talkers.
Politicians are human. We seem to forget amidst all the rhetoric and posturing that candidates for office are of the same species as everyone else. Prone to making the same mistakes and falling victim to the same temptations we all face. Take the Jedi’s harsh judgment of the Senate in the ill-fated Star Wars prequels for example. The Jedi for all intents and purposes, while believing in the merits of democracy, had little trust in many of the actual senators themselves. Obi-Wan Kenobi went as far as warning Anakin, “And don’t forget, she’s a politician, and they’re *not* to be trusted.” While many of their claims were no doubt true, it was the pride of the Jedi and fallibility of young Anakin Skywalker that ultimately lead to the Republic’s untimely demise. A lesson we ought not forget, while some of us decide to ignore the political process because of its participant’s “corrupt” nature.
Obtaining political office requires money. Lots of it. A fact, made even more prevalent by recent Supreme Court decisions, most notably Citizens United (A topic I have discussed at length here). Whatever your opinion on the role of money in politics, the simple fact remains: to be a viable candidate you need it. Which means raising funds from individuals who have strong opinions. Furthermore, those who have the most to give are often time those the rich elite. The corporations and their millionaire CEO’s, the big energy conglomerates, and the entrenched political interests who dedicate vast sums of money to ensure their rights are protected. Even if its at the cost of the rest of us. Now it would be great if the average citizen could somehow run a low budget campaign, relying on the merits of their points of view to get them the attention they deserve, but sadly such a pipe dream is unlikely in this environment.
We elect our representatives. If politicians are corrupt, yet continue to be elected, we have no one to blame but ourselves. The great thing about our democracy is everyone has a say in who represents them. So excuse me, if I can’t completely get behind the notion of political life as a world of morally deficient individuals losing themselves to the darkside of the force. Am I saying there are no corrupt politicians who manage to dupe the populace into electing them? Of course not. However, if we as a people made the effort to become more engaged, rather than merely sit at home and complain about the unsavory nature of our elected officials perhaps these legitimately corrupt individuals would either see the writing on the wall and change their ways or be replaced with the type of the candidates we are looking for. Otherwise, we will continue to be saddled with the hero we need right now rather than the one we deserve.
Politicians will continue to disappoint us. There will always be those who rail against the moral degradation of society and then turn around and violate the sanctity of their marriage. Money will continue to play an ever increasing role in political campaigns (at least until the American people stand up in unison against such practices). Sadly, its unlikely we will ever reach a point where every individual in every corner of this country engages in the political process at the level needed to ensure honest, upright citizens are elected. However, this does not mean we should give up on the very players who dedicate themselves to the dirty work of maintaining our democracy. Instead we should continue to support them when they do what’s needed and hold them accountable when they do not. We are our democracy and it is up to us to preserve it’s moral compass.