Friday, March 31, 2006

Political Pet Peeve Number One

I've ranted on this before, but hey, on the off chance some key campaign staff, building staffers, or even a member or two (and there are a few, thank you very much) checks this site in the near future, I wil repeat.

If you have run for office, are running for office, will run for office you have been and are currently a politician.

I know it's hard to read those words. I know it is even harder to own up to them. But please, anytime you have the urge to start a sentence "I'm not a politician, I'm a ________," for the love of truth and language, stop yourself.

The Chron's John Wildermuth takes a look at the dirtiest word in American political language - noting that "being known as a politician isn't a good strategy, especially for a politician."

And hey - look who get's interviewed:

"There's some feeling that someone can say 'I'm not a politician, vote for me,''' said Jack Pitney, a political science professor at Claremont McKenna College. "But once you get a paycheck for a political office, you're a politician, like it or not.''
See! There are experts backing me up here.

The lengths to which politicians will go to not be themselves is staggering. Check out the chestnut of a soundbite from would-be Democratic gubernatorial candidate Steve Westly:

[Westly] was walking precincts for Democratic candidates as a teenager in Atherton and Menlo Park, was co-student body president at Stanford University and at age 24 become the youngest person ever elected to a state Democratic Party office. In 1978, he worked as a legislative aide to the late Peninsula Rep. Leo Ryan, who was assassinated in Jonestown, Guyana.

As vice-chair of the state party in 1989, he lost a high-profile battle for the chairmanship to former Gov. Jerry Brown, but stayed active in party affairs before becoming state controller. He's been a member of the Democratic National Committee since 1988.

But Westly still clings tightly to his outsider status.

"Other than the Democratic Party stuff, I've only given three years of my life to running for political office,'' he said.
Right, that CDP stuff doesn't count, right? Just a blip on the screen. Fit it in between weekly Rotary meetings and your Bunco get-togethers?

At least Angelides isn't quoted saying anything quite as laughable in the article - though I wouldn't let that make me think he hasn't said as much on the record elsewhere (we aren't on anyone's side here at Phoblog. Yet).

And we don't even have to get started with Schwarzenegger, do we?

The rampant mistrust and disgust voters express about "entrenched" or "career" politicians is a self-fulfilling prophecy. Maybe we should encourage would-be leaders to be honest about themselves from the start by not expecting - basically requiring - that they lie to us about being as outside as outsiders can get and just level about their experience and qualifications.

As Jack Pitney explains in the article, the whole of human history is littered with this kind of bogus posturing - but a girl can dream.


Anonymous said...

I know this isn't the takeaway from this post, but it does seem like bunco is much more popular these days than it used to be. What is going on in the world of bunco?

Anonymous said...

Phoblog, pick a pony. Pick Angelides. To the best of my knowledge, he's not said something ridiculous about not being a politician. And, he's widely considered a wonk. We like wonks, don't we?

I totally agree with this post, by the way. I've always felt more comfortable with career politicians doing political work. The example, as simplistic as it is, that I use, would you rather be operated on by a career physician, or someone who wasn't a career doctor?

Anonymous said...

Its funny you posted this as I've been thinking a lot lately about the difference between politicians and those who govern. Your point seems to be that once you are elected to public life, you are a politician, but technically you're skipping a step there. A person who has been elected to govern can do so without play politics. Or at least can attempt to do so- obviously it wouldn't fly too well today. Its the choice they make to act in a manipulative and devious way that makes them a poltician.

I guess the point I'm making is that there should be a differentiation between those who govern and those who practice politics. They do not need to go hand in hand. In fact, I believe it is the prioritization of politics over governing that is the greatest contribution to the disenfranchisment of America.

Obviously this is why "politicians" make the claim that they are not politicans AND this is why we, the American people, want so badly to believe them. I think you are right to be completely skeptical when it comes to people who make this claim, but I don't think we should give out hope that our messiah will appear. Surely it isn't completely impossible for someone to govern and protect the interest of the people instead of playing politics. Right?

Anonymous said...

So timely: Bill Frist

"The real Bill Frist, they don't really see," Mr. Frist continued in an interview on Friday, referring to voters who do not know him in his role as a transplant surgeon who takes medical missions to impoverished lands. "That's the biggest challenge, when people say I can't give a speech, I'm not a politician. I didn't come here to be a politician."

But after nearly 12 years in the Senate, Mr. Frist, of Tennessee, is immersed in politics, and as he plots a possible 2008 presidential bid in his waning days as leader, he is walking a perilous path.

Anonymous said...

nice catch on the frist quote, jbl.

ben, i have to disagree with your fundamental premise that politics = evil, greedy, manipulation of the people. no one who governs can be effective without being political. in fact, in life, we're all political most of the time.

i think your comment perfectly illustrates why politicians of the elected kind go out of their way to say they aren't, becasuse the word has been given a negative overtone that, at its basic, it doesn't/shouldn't carry.

i think bust et al have gotten to you a bit ;) "playing politics" is a quintessentially bushian phrase, isn't it?

you really do WANT your representative to be politically savvy, otherwise he/she will simply get run over in the race for resources and your town will get the shaft. pork politics is only pork when it gifts someone else. when you get the goods it's "effective representation."

i suppose the basic message here is, to quote wise men, "don't hate the player, hate the game." it isn't "politicians" per se that are the bad guys here. It's just a few who are very good at the game using it for bad ends.