Why Honor Politicians?
Once, when my son was in elementary school, they had some kind of special event celebrating the achievements of various students – I can't recall just what the festivities were all about. What I do recall vividly is that the principal had invited a local politician to head up the feast, to make a keynote address, some kind of inspirational speech for the kids.
Not being one who stands idly by when rank malfeasance is rife around me, I went home after the event and wrote to the principal protesting the invitation of the politician. I noted that it would have been far more appropriate and useful for the students had she invited a local artist, engineer, merchant or scientist to make the address.
I wrote, "What is the reason you selected a politician to stand before your students? Do you believe politicians these days are the best role model for encouraging young people to succeed in life? Please reconsider this belief – politicians are leeches, mostly, and our kids need productive role models." Or something along these lines.
Needless to say, my letter was ignored, although at least my child didn't seem to have suffered any adverse repercussions.
I was reminded of this episode when I was watching one of my favorite television programs a while back, "Law & Order." This show always begins with the discovery or commission of a crime, followed by the detectives figuring out who is the most likely suspect and then the assistant DA and staff going about mounting the prosecution. In this episode someone had shot up City Council in New York City, killing and injuring two politicians. When the detectives come to the scene of the crime, they see one member of the council dead and ask whether the injured victim, by now taken off to the hospital, is also a member of the council. In response, the investigating officer says, "No, thank God, it was some civilian," or words to that effect.
Okay, perhaps this isn't much to get bent out of shape about but my tentacles are very, very sensitive and I noticed how the writers snuck in this odd tip of the hat to politicians, suggesting that it is much worse to have injured such an individual than a "mere" civilian.
There is an interesting, even challenging issue afoot here, actually. In a society in which public officials are involved in the honorable task of securing the rights of citizens, they are a bit like good soldiers, standing guard against criminals and others who would undermine civil society. That is perhaps one reason why even after the sorry record of governments throughout history, there is still some kind of honor attached to the term "statesman."
The idea is that some folks in law enforcement and administration may actually be performing a noble task, standing up to defend the citizenry against barbarians, those who would wreak havoc against peace and justice. That is one reason many people have a certain degree of native respect for police officers and soldiers, especially in a relatively free society, or for the sheriff in the so-called Wild West. That is why in the famous movie, "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance," Jimmy Stewart's character, the man who brings law and order to a Western town, is taken to be a hero, along with the character played by John Wayne, a decent but very tough ruffian who fights the evil bloke, a robber and murderer, played by Lee Marvin.
In the idealized American context, champions of law and order are seen as good guys, unlike, say, in Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union – and, if one is realistic about it, in much of contemporary America.
Sadly, in the country that America is today – or may in fact have always been when we take a closer look – it is entirely gratuitous to cast politicians and bureaucrats as heroes. Members of a city council, especially in major cities such as New York, Chicago, Los Angeles and San Francisco, are as a rule undeserving of special respect. They do not hold honorable professions. They are, essentially, power brokers and wielders, not professionals standing up for peace and justice. Therefore, their deaths or injuries at the hands of criminals certainly don't deserve special lament, as against the deaths or injuries of ordinary citizens.
The writers of this "Law & Order" episode ought to get real – people in politics today don't merit special consideration, even in fiction, let alone in real life.
Tibor Machan is a member of the Advisory Board for The Foundation for the Advancement of Free-Market Thinking (FAFMT) and the R. C. Hoiles Professor of Business Ethics & Free Enterprise at the Argyros School of Business & Economics, Chapman University in Orange, CA.
Posted by nailheadtom on 01/11/13 11:30 AM
John Adams' celebrated quote that Americans live in a "nation of laws not men", paraphrased from James Harrington's passage in the 1656 "The Commonwealth of Oceana" where he states that government is "the empire of laws and not of men" couldn't be more wrong. Personalities such as Alexander, Augustus, Charles Martel, Napoleon, Bismarck, Hitler, etc. have always been able, with the assistance of their followers, to impose dramatic changes in politics that deviated from the norm. And so it is today. A good example is the current argument over further restrictions on gun ownership in the US. The sacred US constitution forbids any segment of government to infringe the right to keep and bear arms, a straight-forward position. Although there have been abrogations of this right through the years, there is now an elected leader that is in a position to fundamentally revoke it. It's doubtful if any of his predecessors would have given even verbal support to such a thing. This is not to say that BHO is as much of a personal force as a Napoleon or Bismarck, far from it. But he does happen to be in the right spot at the right time, for him anyway.
The semi-deification of political leaders through memorials, engravings on currency, bumper stickers, portraits in school rooms, etc. evidently appeals to some wide-spread human failing. It's not a regression, since tribes and clans ordinarily have personal knowledge of their unelected leaders, warts and all, and consider them to be what they are, advisors and decision makers, not deities. In a society run by elites, they all know that only one of them can represent their interests to the greater world.
Posted by Leviathanfighter on 01/11/13 02:33 AM
Fascinating, Mr. Machan. I totally agree. You did well to take exception to the invitation of a politician. Civilization owes remarkably little, if anything, to the efforts of politicians.
Indeed, they occupy far too much space in our consciousness when compared to entrepreneurs, inventors, and scientists.
But I'll go you one further... even ORDINARY people are FAR more important than policitians. It is THEY, the masses of ordinary people, producing and consuming, buying and selling in the free market, who make this country run, not the silly, scheming politician/referees standing on the sidelines of history, crowding the rest of us out of the picture as they do.
We might call this phenomenon "political gigantism." Mainstream historians have mythologized and magnified the storied deeds of politicians while tending to minimize the efforts of entrepreneurs, and especially ordinary people. The latter groups are the builders of civilization.
Posted by Abu Aardvark on 01/10/13 05:06 PM
Friend_of_John_Galt : "All in all, my childhood experiences with politicians has given me the perspective that there is nothing impressive at all about them. They are just like everyone else -- some are bright and reasonably ethical-- many are less so. The most dangerous are bright and lacking in ethics. There are plenty fitting that category."
"The most improper job of any man, even saints, is bossing other men; not one in a million is fit for it, and least of all those who seek the opportunity."
JRR Tolkien, 1943
Posted by Friend_of_John_Galt on 01/10/13 04:57 PM
I was the child of a local/state politician (a member of the state legislature, and then a judge). The one thing I learned was to have a deep cynicism when it comes to politicians (and judges). Having attended the annual "judges summer picnic" (as a child) I can also observe that "sober as a judge" is definitely a relative term.
During a reception held at the Governor's Mansion (a Victorian structure, now a museum) the "legislative kids" pretty much had the run of the place -- while turing the basement (unescorted) I came across the governor's underwear hanging from a clothes line. I was not impressed.
All in all, my childhood experiences with politicians has given me the perspective that there is nothing impressive at all about them. They are just like everyone else -- some are bright and reasonably ethical-- many are less so. The most dangerous are bright and lacking in ethics. There are plenty fitting that category.
Posted by fabien on 01/10/13 04:27 PM
I know why he says thank God and that's certainly realistic. Politicians are the masters of this particular flock of people. When they get murdered it brings a lot of heat to the police. Police doesn't like heat it likes doughnuts.
Posted by tone-bone on 01/10/13 12:14 PM
School principals are walking, talking idiots. They're every move is measured, with an eye on becoming school superintendants. There's like 50 per school district. It's a joke. It's highly-pay welfare.
My son, and the rest of his 6th grade class were bullied by this little prick, [the product of the coupling of an attorney and a alcoholic detective]. The "principal", when approached by 20 sets of parents, did NOTHING. Nothing. For an entire school year, this waste of human skin, this grossly underqualified looser of a human being, this person that on her best day, only took up space, did nothing.
So, it's rather obvious that your child's "principal" is an idiot too. They all are.
Posted by eternal on 01/10/13 09:39 AM
You may have missed the point in that L&O episode.
It's just as likely (more in my opinion) that their intent was to inflame people's sensibilities, by giving them a glimpse into the mindset of some government toadies.
Posted by CelticFire69 on 01/10/13 09:05 AM
I share your sentiments! I have noted at numerous Chamber and business functions what can only be described as a worshipful awe of the political class. Amazingly even scandal doesn't dampen this religious zeal. When questioned about this ritualistic behavior, offense is taken with comments typically along the lines of my having not been properly raised to show proper respect for the valiant leaders of our society. I guess it shows that 150 years of public school indoctrination has been a great investment on the elites' part. Keep up the good work!
Posted by coolhandluke61 on 01/10/13 07:10 AM