Dean Esmay (who may or may not have appreciated the joke below) has a hopeful post up on Ten Odd Things I Believe About Politics, and I feel I must comment. Or at least, I’m going to quote people who have already commented.
1) Most politicians are inherently honest people, and rarely lie.
You MUST be joking! “Politics is the business of getting power and privilege without possessing merit. A politician is anyone who asks individuals to surrender part of their liberty – their power and privilege – to State, Masses, Mankind, Planet Earth, or whatever. This state, those masses, that mankind, and the planet will then be run by … politicians.” P. J. O’Rourke “Since a politician never believes what he says, he is quite surprised to be taken at his word.” Charles de Gaulle “A good politician is quite as unthinkable as an honest burglar.” H. L. Mencken “When asked to name the chief qualification a politician should have. “It’s the ability to foretell what will happen tomorrow, next month, and next year — and to explain afterward why it didn’t happen.” Sir Winston Churchill
2) Waffling is not lying. Neither is changing your mind.
“A politician is an animal which can sit on a fence and yet keep both ears to the ground.” H. L. Mencken
3) Being evasive with an answer to a direct question is not usually a sign of slipperiness. It’s a sign of a politician still thinking through an issue, or still negotiating it, and trying to avoid being trapped by someone in the press looking for a reason to hurt him and/or interfere with the deliberation process.
“Politicians trim and tack in their quest for power, but they do so in order to get the wind of votes in their sails.” Ian Gilmour “A professional politician is a professionally dishonorable man. In order to get anywhere near high office he has to make so many compromises and submit to so many humiliations that he becomes indistinguishable from a streetwalker.” H. L. Mencken “The average politician goes through a sentence like a man exploring a disused mine shaft-blind, groping, timorous and in imminent danger of cracking his shins on a subordinate clause or a nasty bit of subjunctive.” Robertson Davies “The politician is trained in the art of inexactitude. His words tend to be blunt or rounded, because if they have a cutting edge they may later return to wound him.” Edward R. Murrow
4) Almost all politicians try very hard to keep all their campaign promises. Being human, and living in a world where circumstances change, they are incapable of keeping them all. There is nothing slippery or weasely about this, either.
“The government consists of a gang of men exactly like you and me. They have, taking one with another, no special talent for the business of government; they have only a talent for getting and holding office. Their principal device to that end is to search out groups who pant and pine for something they can’t get and to promise to give it to them. Nine times out of ten that promise is worth nothing. The tenth time is made good by looting A to satisfy B. In other words, government is a broker in pillage, and every election is sort of an advance auction sale of stolen goods.” — H. L. Mencken
5) Campaign contributions in the modern American system are not bribes and should not be viewed as such.
“In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.” Dwight D. Eisenhower “When government does, occasionally, work, it works in an elitist fashion. That is, government is most easily manipulated by people who have money and power already. This is why government benefits usually go to people who don’t need benefits from government. Government may make some environmental improvements, but these will be improvements for rich bird-watchers. And no one in government will remember that when poor people go bird-watching they do it at Kentucky Fried Chicken.” P. J. O’Rourke
6) The two-party system is the best system yet invented, and doesn’t need to be fundamentally altered, although tweaks here and there could always improve it (if we’re careful) but could hurt it (if we’re not careful or simply miscalculate). But built-in mechanisms for correction always exist. In any case, an educated citizen should expect partisans to snipe at each other, and should try to look beyond these things to the deeper issues.
“Under democracy one party always devotes its chief energies to trying to prove that the other party is unfit to rule–and both commonly succeed, and are right… The United States has never developed an aristocracy really disinterested or an intelligentsia really intelligent. Its history is simply a record of vacillations between two gangs of frauds.” H. L. Mencken
7) The only difference between a “rigid ideologue” and a “principled soul” seems to be whether you agree with the politician taking his stand or not.
“The most successful politician is he who says what the people are thinking most often in the loudest voice.” Theodore Roosevelt “Since a politician never believes what he says, he is quite surprised to be taken at his word.” Charles de Gaulle (Duplicate, but a goodie.)
8) Most voters are far smarter, more sophisticated, and full of common sense than many people want to give them credit for.
“Bad politicians are sent to Washington by good people who don’t vote.” William E. Simon “We’d all like to vote for the best man but he’s never a candidate.” Kin Hubbard “A citizen of America will cross the ocean to fight for democracy, but won’t cross the street to vote in a national election.” Bill Vaughan
9) Sound bites and campaign commercials, as a rule, are not shallow. Nor are they a sign of deteriorating public discourse. Generally, they convey a great deal of sophisticated information. Generally speaking, the quality of our political discourse is better today than it ever has been.
“We were told our campaign wasn’t sufficiently slick. We regard that as a compliment.” Margaret Thatcher “The hardest thing about any political campaign is how to win without proving that you are unworthy of winning.” Adlai E. Stevenson “Political campaigns are designedly made into emotional orgies which endeavor to distract attention from the real issues involved, and they actually paralyze what slight powers of cerebration man can normally muster.” James Harvey Robinson “People who are wise, good, smart, skillful, or hardworking don’t need politics, they have jobs.” P. J. O’Rourke
10) The most crippling factor in our political system is not dishonesty, corruption, two-facedness, or even bureaucracy. It’s cynicism, and the laziness that undergirds it. This destructive force most often emanates from the press and the general public.
Cynicism? Guilty as charged. Lazyness? Nope, not me. IMHO the most crippling factor in our political system is greed. It’s the voters who believe that they can get something for nothing from the government. It’s the citizens willing to give up a little bit of their freedom for some imagined advantage. It’s the desire to keep other people from doing something they don’t like, not realizing that, as Jefferson said, the government that has the power to do something for you has the power to do something to you. “When a private entity does not produce the desired results, it is (certain body parts excepted) done away with. But a public entity gets bigger.” P. J. O’Rourke “Government big enough to supply everything you need is big enough to take everything you have … The course of history shows that as a government grows, liberty decreases.” Thomas Jefferson The nation was founded by men who knew these truths and tried to build a structure that would be self-limiting. In that they failed because they depended on men like themselves to be the meritocracy that ran the small, limited government. Unfortunately, government is power, and power both corrupts and attracts the corrupt. It also atracts the “do-gooders” who believe they know what’s best. And, as Justice Brandeis said: “Experience teaches us to be most on our guard to protect liberty when the government’s purposes are beneficent.” “The greatest dangers to liberty lurk in insidious encroachment by men of zeal, well-meaning but without understanding.” In short, the problem is the people who believe that government is always beneficial, rather than a necessary evil best kept small and watched warily. It is they who have allowed our government to become what it has become. Government should be crippled. It is to our great dismay that it isn’t crippled enough. A final P. J. O’Rourkism: “The mystery of government is not how Washington works but how to make it stop.” And one from Mencken: “The most dangerous man to any government is the man who is able to think things out…without regard to the prevailing superstitions and taboos. Almost inevitably he comes to the conclusion that the government he lives under is dishonest, insane, intolerable.”