Saturday, July 30, 2011

Honest Politicians

A lot of people seem to be of the opinion that the debt ceiling impasse has shown that our system of governance is broken. We're too divided and unable to get anything done any longer, the argument goes, and it's all the fault of the Tea Party wing of the Republican party. The Tea Party congressmen and women are nutty obstructionists, a scourge on our politics, and we need to vote them out in order to save our democracy.

I think this is all exactly wrong. I think our system is working fine. Americans are learning the difference between contrasting visions of what government should be and learning, too, that their votes matter, that they have the power to elect people who will truly represent them. So far from being the end of democracy, as some are saying, I believe we're seeing it's reinvigoration.

We're also seeing politicians model what we've always said we wanted political leaders to be.

For years we've heard that the problem with Washington is that the people we send there can't be trusted to do what they said they would do, they're too easily bought off, all they care about is their next election, they have no principles, they lie, etc.

Now for the first time in my memory a significant fraction of the House and Senate is comprised of people who are doing exactly what they said they'd do, who can't be bought with earmarks or promises of campaign funding, who don't care about being re-elected, whose only ambition is to see their principles upheld, who are genuinely putting the country's future ahead of their own political careers, and a lot of people, mostly on the left but also in the GOP (Senator John McCain, for example), are beside themselves with frustration and even anger.

To watch the fulminations of some of the commentators at MSNBC you'd think that people who refuse to be complicit in burdening our children with crushing debt are going to be the end of the Republic. Some are calling them "terrorists" and "anarchists". A casual viewer would gain the impression that these evil people were deliberately trying to destroy the country rather than save it.

What we're now hearing is that all that talk about the need for principled leadership is no longer "operative". What we really need are people who can compromise, who'll shrug off their principles, who'll renege on the campaign promises they made their constituents. In other words, what we need, we're now being told, are precisely the kind of politicians that everyone has for decades held in contempt.

It seems that what some folks mean when they say they want politicians with integrity is that they want honest politicians as long as those politicians are reliably liberal. Otherwise, they want them to be as weak and unprincipled as they can be.