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October 2004We can't do without them. They do the jobs few of us are willing to spend time on: Where should the sewer lines go and how do we pay for them? And all we give them in return is a little local status and occasional applause. Fortunately that fills the bill, because yearning for status and approval is what drives most politicians.Abstract:
The quirks of politicians, and why it's convenient to feed their egos.
We could call it a character flaw, this excessive need for applause and approval, the self-absorption and vanity that characterizes politicians, but that would be uncharitable. They do, after all, serve an important function. So if we take advantage of these glad-handers and get them to do our dirty work, and if they're willing to do that for a bit of public notice, their need for approval fits in with our need for streets and sewers, and for that we should be grateful. If they didn't do it, we'd have to.
But you don't get something for nothing. Part of the cost to the public of buying this kind of politician is that while we get the basics (sewers, roads) taken care of, nothing imaginative ever comes from this kind of people. But that's OK as long as we manage to keep the politicians largely out of our private enterprise. That's where we exercise our imagination. (The lesson from the dismal socialist experiments in eastern Europe was that when politicians take over everything, the expected happens: No imagination or innovation of any sort happens.)
One of the things that makes the ways of the "western world" so popularly appealing is the unity of our economics and politics. Both are based on "free market" competition, i.e., you sell what you can sell to whoever you can sell it to. Whether you're marketing a yo-yo, a new movie, or a politician, the marketing rules are the same, based on psychology that's been employed by carnival and casbah hawkers for thousands of years. In the modern world you merely use the mass media to create an image of the product that appeals to the buyer, create a desire for the product, and convince the buyer that he needs the product. This has been shown to work as well in the flesh trade (i.e., politicians) as with yo-yos.
True, the politician's personal ambition does get in the way at times, as, for example, nearly every day of his life when he is approached by special interests with money to help him in his ambitions, if he'll only help them. Well, of course he will. Probably doesn't hurt the electorate much. After all, there's mixed opinion back in the district; his vote could have gone either way. And a little extra in the campaign kitty can't hurt.
For representative democracy, as we know, revolves around one central idea, practiced avidly by our representatives: getting, holding, and increasing personal power, status, and recognition. Representatives are no sooner installed in the legislature or Congress than they begin the battle for continued and greater power. Of first importance is of course reelection; that becomes every politician's highest priority goal. In the House of Representatives, where members must stand for election every two years, there is essentially no time that the member is not campaigning for reelection or soliciting funds for the campaign.
But, at least in this country, it is in the end still we, the people, who are in charge. Every four years we install a queen bee in the White House, together with its army of devoted worker bees who dope it up with the sweet nectar of applause and honor. This arrangement suits both the queen bee and us: we get streets and sewers, he/she gets honey.
Three cheers for our politicians. It's in our interest to give them the adulation they need: Hip, hip ...
© 2004 H. Paul Lillebo
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