Tribute to (good) politicians

By Paul Rozycki

“Politics is harder than physics.”

Albert Einstein

Last month East Village Magazine was dedicated to the idea of ​​good governance and the issues of dysfunctional government in Genesee County, as we examined the Flint City Council, the Flint Community School Board and the many issues they faced. Some of these problems have been blamed on “politics” or “politicians”. Sometimes it seems like if we could just get rid of politics and politicians, our problems would be solved.

But perhaps the opposite is true. Maybe we just need to elect those who are good at politics in the best sense of the word.

Avoid the politician label

I had a good friend who had held several elected political offices in Flint and Lansing during his long career. By all accounts, he was a political leader. However, whenever I introduced him as a “politician”, he corrected me and said he was a “civil servant”. Or, with a teasing smile, he sometimes said a “statesman”. He was not unique in his desire to avoid the label of politician.

Along the same lines, my wife Nancy and I often go to Bronner’s in Frankenmuth, where she buys decorations to give to friends for Christmas, birthdays, graduations and anniversaries. Looking around the huge store, it seems they have ornaments for all occasions and interests. In particular, they have ornaments for almost every profession.

You can buy ornaments to honor doctors, nurses, teachers, accountants, journalists, computer operators, social workers, meteorologists, truckers, artists, police officers, postal workers, athletes of almost any sports and dozens of other professions.

But there is one they don’t seem to have.

I have never seen an ornament to honor politicians. They have some for Democrats, some for Republicans, but none for elected politicians.

“I am not a politician”

Curiously, even those seeking political office often deny that they are politicians. How often do we hear a campaign pitch that we should elect someone because they’re ‘not a politician’ and they’re a businessman, farmer, teacher or some other profession ? In a recent televised debate ahead of the primary election, five candidates running for governor of Michigan spent the better part of an hour accusing each other of being “politicians” as if they were was a swear word.

Campaign signs in front of Flint City Hall, November 2020. (Photo by Paul Rozycki)

Yet those who reflect the wishes of voters and manage the affairs of government are The politicians. As in any profession, some of them are very good at it. Others not so much. A functioning democratic government needs those who are good at the art of politics. Politics is a skill and a legitimate career like many others. With the complex decisions we face today, it may not be the right time for amateurs. Yet many go out of their way to avoid the label and deny that they are politicians.

The need for good politicians

How would we react to a doctor who said, “I’m not really a surgeon, but let’s see what happens if I try to remove your appendix?” Or an auto mechanic who said, “I’ve never worked on a transmission before, but show me where it is, and I’ll see what I can do?” »

You had the idea. Every profession requires certain skills and abilities. A good politician is one who understands how government works, the needs and wants of voters, and has the ability to run government effectively and efficiently. A good politician knows when to lead public opinion, when to follow it, and when to dismiss it. A good politician who is actively involved with government must ensure that he keeps his promises. And sometimes that means compromise.

At a time when so many aspects of our lives divide us along partisan lines, ultimately government must deliver results. Too often, governments today have been characterized by delays and stalemates at every level, from the Flint City Council to the Flint Community School Board to the United States Congress. Not surprisingly, there has been growing distrust of all governments.

The art of compromise

Over the past few weeks, I remember seeing a campaign ad for a candidate asking for our vote because he wouldn’t back down! It’s a memorable phrase, and it can make a good bumper sticker or 30-second ad, but that attitude also leads to the polarization we see today, where little is accomplished except conflict and cynicism. . Too often today’s political leaders know how to make headlines, but aren’t as good at crafting good policies.

A good politician should be able to do both. Of course, winning an election requires making headlines, grabbing public attention and garnering votes. But after elections are over, comes the more mundane task of making policy, running a government and delivering public services. Doing this often means being willing to compromise and work with those you disagree with. Sometimes, to get things done, a leader may need to step back and give the other party their due.

building in Lansing. (Photo source: Michigan State Capitol Facebook page)

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Michigan State Capitol building in Lansing. (Photo source: Michigan State Capitol Facebook page)

A good politician should have the ability to do this, and should also have the wisdom to know when to do it and when not to do it. A good politician should also have the ability to explain to voters why he or she did what they did. There are times when a political leader should not back down, but there are also times when compromise is essential.

Unfortunately, too often those willing to work with the other side are seen as traitors to their party – as RINOS (Republicans in name only) or DINOS (Democrats in name only), and they run the risk of to face primary elections. disputes within their own party. With low turnout in primary elections, this can pose a serious threat.

Our choices in politics

United States Capitol in Washington DC (Photo source Architect of the Capitol website.

Many observers speak of the “game of politics” or “the art of politics”. The way the game is played can make all the difference in the world. As a game, politics can be either a game of poker, a game of chess, or a mud wrestling match in the alley. As an art, politics can be either a Renaissance masterpiece or the work of a five-year-old child scribbling in pencil over the lines of a coloring book.

There is no guarantee that those who practice politics will always be good at it, and there is no guarantee that even those who are good at it will pursue worthwhile goals. Certainly, Abraham Lincoln and Franklin Roosevelt were shrewd politicians and left the world a better place through their efforts. Yet Hitler and Stalin were equally formidable in their own versions of politics and left nothing but horror and disaster in their wake.

Politics in a democracy can be a messy process and can cause us to reject those who are politicians. We live in an anti-incumbent age, where it’s easy to be cynical of any elected official or politician.

But politics is at the heart of democracy, and it’s up to us to make sure that for all the jokes we make about politics and politicians, we elect those who represent our best vision of the future. Not doing so makes Plato’s quote even more accurate:

One of the penalties for refusing to participate in politics it is that you end up being governed by your inferiors.


EVM Political commentator Paul Rozycki can be reached at [email protected]

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