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The Jehoshua Novels


"We, the People" Abdicate

Every so often, maybe every two or three years, I’m asked by at least one person why I haven’t run for office. “You’d make a great Congressman/Senator/President,” they’ll say.

I suppose it’s true: I am pretty bright, can communicate well, have a large measure of compassion, and get the human condition without being a soppy bleeding heart. My passion in life is to make connections that other people miss, to understand why something happens, which is the first step in making sure it does or does not happen again, as the case may be.

There are plenty of reasons why I have not. I suck at fundraising, for one thing. I never ask for money, even if I could, absent the occasional ad to sell my photographs or to hawk a book or my writing, or what have you.

But here’s the real reason I haven’t and probably never will run.

I’m human.

I’m no better than you or you or him or her, at the end of the day. That immediately disqualifies me from public office. It shouldn’t, but it does. And I think you can trace the roots of many of the problems that beset this nation to that inarguable fact.

We the people insist our politicians be better than we are. Under all the glue-huffing about Teabaggers and elitists and egghead liberals, we want our politicians to be smarter, handsomer, richer, better hung (or have bigger breasts), more articulate and goshdarnit! more moral than we could ever hope to be.

We’ve created a fantasy class. In exchange, under the assumption of superiority, we’ve handed these people the keys to the bar and told them to lock up after we’ve gone to sleep.

We’re asleep. The bar’s still open.

Politicians are human, but we expect them to be superhuman. Do you see a disconnect here? If a politician betrays even the slightest humanity, we ridicule him or her.

I’m not talking about morons like Bachmann or Palin or Trump (who claims to be different from politicians, but I perceive that difference in the same way that malaria is different from a bad cold). Or even George W. Bush, who’s reach exceeded his grasp and we all paid a heavy price for it.

I’m talking about how anytime anyone pokes his or her head above the foxhole, shots get fired, yet we expect them to leap up and take more ground, to lead us.

Take any Presidential candidate of the past twenty years, including the ones who won (absenting Bush). John Kerry by all rights could have won (and in many lights did win) the 2004 election: a decorated war veteran, long-serving Senator, a brilliant policy man, but brought down hard by a smear campaign that any American in his or her right mind would have laughed off as ridiculous if they had read it in a novel.

Clinton won, twice, but only because he had a core of support that anybody but Bush had to win, and Ross Perot was too scary to conceive of voting for (yet, tell me you didn’t think some of what Perot espoused had some interest).

In all these elections, the issues favored Democrats: in 1992, we were in a mild recession and had twelve years of Reagan/Bush scandals. In 1996, Clinton was beseiged by know-nothing Gingrichites hellbent on destroying liberal America and jerking the country rightward. In 2004, Bush hadn’t created a single job during his administration, had allowed 9/11 to take place and had the lowest approval rating of any President running for re-election, ever.

Look at what happens: candidates can’t win on issues, because those issues get swamped in the muck of the campaign. Money is flung, and after the Citizens Uniteddecision, more money will be flung at candidates, smearing them personally and ignoring the issues in favor of scare tactical talking points.

All because a guy is human.

And we the people have allowed this to happen, because we eat up Clinton’s affairs or Obama’s birth certificate or Palin’s pregnancies.

No. Worse. We allow a small but loud minority to dominate the discussion. We presume that, because they’re so loud and so “grass-rootsy” that somehow they’ve earned their say.

Notice that there’s a corollary, an unwelcome development about this: because issues stop mattering, politicians stop caring about issues. This creates a vacuum, into which other, very human desires, rush.

Power. Greed. Politics no longer becomes about who does the best job of governing but about who can grab hold of and control power the longest.

In 1964 and 1965, when the Civil Rights, Economic Opportunity , and Social Security Acts were passed, they were passed by a coalition of Republicans and Democrats, mostly liberals, who wanted to do good. They saw injustice across this land. They saw that 12% of the populace was suffering mercilessly at the hands of people who wanted nothing to do with them for no other reason than they were different. They worked together to change that.

Could that happen now? No. Not because there are no longer any mountains to climb and conquer, but because it’s not about governance, it’s about power.

And neither side is winning.

13 comments to "We, the People" Abdicate

  • Synoia

    have a large measure of compassion, and get the human condition without being a soppy bleeding heart

    I see the essential qualification is to claim this, not believe it, and act accordingly.

  • Tina

    but human as a start would be nice. I wouldn’t even mind the nutmeat politicians if they were not hypocrites and were at least willing to listen or acknowledge the validity of opinions other than their own.

    It does look like Obama is going to take a chunk out of citizens united.
    http://www.politicususa.com/en/obama-citizens-united

    or so he says *sigh*

  • ww

    … have to own the bullhorn … last seen in Bush’s hands, walking away from Ground Zero …

  • steeleweed

    We allow a small but loud minority to dominate the discussion…

    We have allowed the right wingers to define the terms, boundaries and vocabulary of political discussion.

    The original social safety net arose as a response to the Great Depression and came from a commendable sense of noblesse oblige on the part of aristocrats like FDR who realized their status ultimately depended on the Common man.
    These long-established elite understood the obligations that came with their privileges and knew their status depended on more than just money. Most of the post-WWII nouveau riche had no such awareness – for them, it was all about $$$.
    Their successors have thus been devoted to money and power.

    The generation which achieved ‘middle class’ status post-WWII remembered their roots and values. They and their children are the ones whose understanding and compassion drove the great advances in the social safety net in the 1960s and later. The majority of subsequent generations don’t seem to have any history/roots and their values have been co-opted by consumerism. The first generation to be bathed in consumerism from birth were those who came of age after 1975.

    Back in the 60s one heard, “Don’t trust anyone over 30″.
    With some exceptions, I’m inclined to mistrust the political understanding of anyone under 60.


    Retiring Mainframe maven, active curmudgeon, poet, writer.

  • quiet Bill

    When people say “you’d make a great politician” I don’t think “pretty bright, can communicate well, have a large measure of compassion, and get the human condition” is generally what they mean :P

  • Awake

    So run for city council. It is a place that can make a big difference, requires political skill, yet is fairly low pressure and low key.

  • HongPong

    My dad was on the county board in western wisconsin for a while. Nobody particularly wants those gigs usually – like you don’t even have contested elections a lot of the time. Also they may be technically nonpartisan positions which is good. However you will get people who are nuts (fellow board members that is) and eat the clock at all the meetings which feels like a good reason to leave eventually.

    There is a reason that people with some grit go from school board or county board onwards or slightly upwards and sideways, is because it is not a glossy position with a spotlight. Also it’s easy to argue that its a more legitimate and important level of government.

    Hongpong.com

  • JustPlainDave

    …all about politicians? The implicit assumption behind what you’ve written above seems to be that if one is going to change things, one needs be a politician. I just don’t see that. I think you need to find ways of influencing them that aren’t the same old ways (letter writing, etc.) – instead, I think you have to build a constituency centred around doing something that you can represent.

    Seeing both sides of the problem is sadly seen as a vice. ~ SPK

  • Tina

    level might be the best place to start. Isn’t that how the republicans took over school boards etc.? We now are paying the price for not fighting back against them. Unfortunately the dems don’t seem to have plans for the future.

  • Actor 212

    ….but you’ll note they didn’t say “great politician”… ;-)

    Actually, that’s part of the problem for me. I don’t lie easily, and I certainly don’t lie comfortably.

  • Actor 212

    But ultimately, you have to get the politicians on board.

    Here’s an anecdote (and in answer to the “city council” question)

    I live in NYC. Part of my fight over the past two years has been to try to preserve one of the longest standing public health projects in America. Believe it or not, Bloomberg cut a century-old dental health program for indigent children, one that survived two great wars, a Great Depression and the city’s near-bankruptcy.

    In the course of that fight, I must have spoken to every City Council member, donated to campaigns, thrown my endorsement behind the few I could, and promised them the support of at least one union, all in exchange to stop the bleeding and try to salvage something of this program. After all, dental hygiene prevents so many horrible childhood diseases and tragedies, from death by oral cancers and diabetes to brain infections.

    All for the cost of a cleaning and exam. Not a bad deal, if you ask me.

    There are some 50-odd members. I think we had the support of 35 or so.

    The proposal was defeated 51-0. Defeated in a backroom negotiation between Speaker Quinn and Mayor Mike. Mind you, this was all against the backdrop of a Federal healthcare reform bill that was targeting additional funds for child health programs, including dental hygiene.

    And yes, we went to the Capitol to make sure it was included.

  • JustPlainDave

    …has always struck me as about the most difficult environment to work at influencing in North America (except for crazy, really corrupt places). About the only one more challenging would the the United States Senate.

    Let me flesh out a little what I meant by my last dashed-off line, because that’s really my point and I didn’t highlight it very well – I think it’s worth thinking about in the context of your efforts. When I talk about building a constituency centred around doing something what I’m talking about is building groups that actually address the social issues that your interested in attacking, generally fairly directly. For the given example, I would be thinking of how one builds volunteer-driven projects around the concept of children’s dental health among the poor. Being able to point to the volunteer efforts of hundreds or thousands of individual citizens has a pretty significant weight among politicians.

    The more traditional methods (which in my view would include most of the stuff that you mention above), I think, are losing much of their effectiveness in the modern, highly fragmented, politico-media environment of dozens, hundreds, or even thousands of competing narratives. Instead, I think actually organizing from a broad base to directly address a given issue and using that as the basis for pushing government to better policy has a lot more long term potential. In that scenario, even if government blades you at least you’ve got the direct outcomes of the group’s efforts in hand and that’s more than one had before.

    Seeing both sides of the problem is sadly seen as a vice. ~ SPK

  • adrena

    I suppose it’s true: I am pretty bright ….. and get the human condition without being a soppy bleeding heart. My passion in life is to make connections that other people miss, to understand why something happens, which is the first step in making sure it does or does not happen again, as the case may be.

    Um, *cough*.


    Sexual inequality is “The Mother of all Inequalities”.
    Liberate female sexuality and you will eliminate racism, homophobia, financial greed, and violence.

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