Monday, January 11, 2010

The Professionalization of Politics

The last few weeks have shown a large number of members of Congress deciding they need to spend more time with their families...which is, for those of you not familiar with political euphemisms, pol-speak for getting out while the getting is good. Democrats are worried that they will lose their filibuster-proof majority, Republicans are smelling the political chum in the water, and we can all look forward to another season of brainless political attack ads and the general stupidity which accompanies the modern political race.

Which brings me to this interesting article from the blog In All Things, which is part of America, the National Catholic Weekly magazine: Dodd's Departure and the Changing Face of Politics. I don't spend much time agreeing with author Michael Sean Winters, but I thought this article was pretty good. Mr Winters reflects on how political campaigns were run in the days before focus groups, robo-calls, and attack ads; before political handlers that ensured that candidates stayed on message, rather than meeting with Real People and running the risk of accidentally saying something that was true, that made sense, that they really believed in. Reflecting on his relationship over the years with retiring Senator Chris Dodd, Mr Winters writes,

"Dodd was of that generation that remembered the time when politics was not all manufactured, when candidates were not emasculated, when friendship co-existed with political and intellectual rivalry. I fear those days are gone."

“Something fine and bracing has gone out of our political life when candidates are turned into commodities, and when politics is seen as a skill-set rather than a connection of human beings with dense, overlapping affiliations and friendships. I do not see how we can ever get that something back. No candidates, of either party, have been able to resist the onslaught of the professionalization of political campaigns.”

Candidates don't often meet with Real People any more, because there's too much danger of making a mistake. I've written in this space before about the earnest young woman who showed up at my door one day, flacking for a gentleman running for state office...a young woman who couldn't answer a single question about her candidate that wasn't on her script. The incumbent, who has been in office for several terms now, showed up at my door himself when he was first running, and spent almost half an hour talking to me and answering my questions. I'm still voting for him, and the challenger last year lost his second run at the seat.

Now, it's easy to look back at an imagined Golden Age of Politics, when elected officials actually listened to their constituents and didn't owe their political souls to the big campaign contributors. It never happened, of course. American politics has always been dirty, going back to the underhanded shenanigans of Thomas Jefferson that no one quite remembers now. But wouldn't it be nice if, for once, we could have an intellectually honest campaign?

There will be a lot of chances for that coming this year. Sadly, I don't think anyone will take advantage of them.

And it's sad for the country.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.



John said...

What ever happened to the idea that representatives be citizens of the communities they represent? That they would serve their terms and then go back and live among the people that they represented. The career politician has destroyed this idea and most of them couldn't go home and face their neighbors anyway.

Mike said...

"intellectually honest campaign"

That works until the first stone is thrown.