Friday, January 25, 2008

But what do I know about politics?

This is one of the more surreal presidential election campaigns I've ever experienced for several reasons, but one that really puzzles me is that I seem to have gained a reputation as a naive dunce who doesn't know the first thing about politics. I memorized Electoral Collage stats before I had ever heard of the World Series, I began campaigning for presidential candidates when I was in high school, and I've been writing about politics for 20 years. But this year friends and relatives have been shaking their heads sadly in disbelief when I share my perceptions of the candidates. The popular consensus is that all politicians are irredeemably corrupt, intellectually dishonest, and completely self-serving, with only minor differences in degree, and only a fool would think otherwise. I'd certainly apply that description to most politicians, but I think it's illogical to believe that the election process never attracts anyone with any integrity. I mean, it's not that hard to get on the ballot; a few people must do it without selling their souls to Satan. Experts on a particular subject are often wrong, of course. Tremendously well-informed people got us into Vietnam, ignored warnings about terrorism before 9/11, and have repeatedly guessed wrong about the stock market. The best doctors make misdiagnoses, and the best chefs use too much garlic. People in ivory towers can know everything about global warning and not have enough sense roll up their car windows in a rainstorm. So I'm not arrogant enough to claim that my political opinions are always right. In retrospect, I can think of plenty of times that I've chosen the wrong candidate, whether for president or for school board member, and I'm sure that I'll keep making bad choices. But one thing that I have learned over the years as a journalist is that politicians do not all have the same character. If I can offer just one idea as an expert, it's that saying "they're all the same" is not a sign of cynicism. Instead, it's the most naive attitude of all.

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3 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

In addition to being naive, I believe that many of the people who say "they are all the same" are also lazy, and do not want to take the time to learn about the candidates and their positions. For example, I believe that John McCain is an ambitious, hot-tempered, sick old man, with whom I disagree on many positions. I am not going to be voting for him. But please do not tell me that he and Mitt Romney are on the same level, particularly when it comes to speaking the truth. John McCain is at least a man of honor.

1/26/2008 02:42:00 AM  
Anonymous rolandtec said...

As someone who I imagine you may have had in mind as you wrote this, I would like to clarify my point. I do not believe that "they are all the same," as you say. That would be naive and lazy and a gross over-simplification. However, I do believe that there is something strange and misguided going on in our national consciousnes in our obsessive focus on INTEGRITY. All I'm saying is, I am a good person (or think I am) and yet, if someone wanted to find something I had done or said that was not entirely honest, they certainly could. All human beings lie. It's just human nature. And to look for a candidate who does not is, I think, missing the point.

1/26/2008 01:02:00 PM  
Blogger Robert David Sullivan said...

I agree that all human beings are flawed and have lapses in integrity, so there's no such thing as a perfect candidate. But I do think there are very important differences in degree and motive. If one candidate has occasional lapses in judgment and another candidate shows a continous pattern of dishonesty, I don't believe that integrity should be taken off the table on the grounds that "they both do it."

For all practical purposes, I believe that saying that all human beings are flawed and therefore it's beside the point to consider candidates' honesty is indeed very close to saying "they are all the same."

1/26/2008 01:21:00 PM  

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