Everyone seems to agree: politicians are terrible. But few people take the time to consider the politician’s perspective.
Criticism #1: Politicians are loyal to special interests, disloyal to their constituents
Part of getting votes is getting money for one’s campaign; part of completing one’s agenda is getting support from others, including groups who have the power to pressure other politicians into supporting bills. There is little sense in complaining about the failure of our leaders to represent us if we accept and support a system in which they must consider other loyalties first in order to keep their jobs and get work done.
Criticism #2: Politicians are too concerned about being re-elected
The continuation of a politician’s agenda–the reason for which people voted for him–depends upon him having his job and, in some cases, having that job long enough to have developed clout and legislative support.
Criticism #3: Politicians engage in secret deals and add pork to bills
If (1) a politician’s constituents want him to actually get work done and (2) the only way to pass a bill that he wants in a bitterly divided legislature is to make some concessions to the opposition, then this is how it must be.
Criticism #4: Politicians play dirty in ad campaigns
They play dirty because it works: they criticize because people delight in hearing about what’s wrong with their enemies; they lie because people don’t bother with fact checking. Even if there were no practical reason for it, they would likely do it anyway because so many of us do it ourselves.
Criticism #5: Politicians are disconnected from average people
It is often pointed out that, because politicians who want to last must
(1) have spotless records or the ability to conceal them,
(2) have the money to campaign or cater to those who do,
(3) lie to support their party,
(4) regularly endure the spotlight, under which they must be able to convince us that they have nothing better to do than listen to us whine, and
(5) avoid making any mistakes, including slips of the tongue,
our pool of candidates consists of many people who are ill-motivated, effectively deceptive, insincere, and wealthy or well-connected. In short, average people just don’t meet our standards, especially if we also demand thorough education and either experience in politics or great success in the private sector.
Criticism #6: Politicians think that they know better than we do
Unless one believes that the job of a representative is simply to do whatever the majority of his constituents want him to do, one has to accept that politicians will sometimes make judgments at odds with our own. Ideally, they take advantage of their position to hear experts (generals, scientists, etc.) out on subjects with which they are unfamiliar and consult the actual numbers on economic matters. To the extent that they fail to do so and instead seek to impose their uninformed beliefs upon us, this criticism is valid. Otherwise, it just goes with the territory of leadership. Sometimes our desires and our best interests are in conflict.
Criticism #7: Politicians refuse to compromise
By this, of course, we mean that the opposition’s politicians refuse to compromise, by which we mean that they refuse to do everything that we want. We want the ideal scenario in which our side sticks to its principles and triumphs in the end because truth and justice always win–not the typical scenario in which both sides stick to their principles and get nothing done or in which neither side sticks to its principles, making progress but earning criticism.
Politicians are responsible for the choices that they make, but those choices have to be understood in context. If we are going to criticize them, we need to understand how we enable their behavior and look seriously at the sorts of reforms that would be necessary to discourage them. And it wouldn’t hurt for us to consider the possibility that our leaders are just our own collective reflection.