Conflict and treachery in government service have been a part of our Republic since the Declaration of Independence took its first breath. Nothing happening today in politics is new, nor should it be shocking. Sitting Vice President Aaron Burr shot and killed the first secretary of the treasury, Alexander Hamilton, in a duel over political dirty dealings in 1804. Today, it’s business as usual.
On the surface, the skills needed to be a good politician may seem at conflict with those that define being a “decent human being.” Politicians get accused of lying. The longer in the public eye and the more involved with government, the more lying accusations fly around the conversation. I’m not suggesting lying doesn’t exist in politics, especially during campaigns, but the words “lying” and “liar” are bantered about so often with so little consideration that they are now trite and meaningless in political criticism.
We have a representative government. Our chosen office holders are charged with representing our interests, and exercising good judgment about issues of which the general population has limited, or no, knowledge. So, when a politician supports “choice” as an option for families to exercise in family planning, they do not always personally favor abortion. They support choice because it’s the law (executive branch) or are supporting individuals making the choice–not sharing a personal preference.
Two-faced? I don’t think so.
Isn’t a politician shunning their religion by supporting an activity banned by their faith? Not at all. Remember, religion is personal and government is public. Tenants of the Constitution separate the two. JFK stated it best in his campaign speech about his Catholicism in 1960.
People who have chosen to pursue elected government service have a specific job to do that requires specific skills. There are courses of study in most colleges that offer instruction in becoming proficient at executing the often-rigorous demands of helping our country move forward. Experience in government service also helps as does serving in the United States military. Compromise is one of those skills
By definition, compromise means giving up some personal values to reach a deal that will make lives better than they are now. If not perfect, at least better. The Affordable Care Act is just such an example. President Obama wanted a public option included that would provide Medicare-like options for people to choose. That option would have been the biggest factor in keeping costs as low as possible. Obamacare, even without the public option, barely passed through Congress, but gave millions of people insurance for which they could not qualify before the act.
Was the choice to abandon the public option in favor of getting insurance into the hands of sick and needy people lying? I don’t think so.
Politicians need two opposing traits to be successful. Articulating a strong opinion about what is best for the U.S. of A. is admirable and necessary for a politician to get elected, and useful as a theoretical base from which to work. Having the strength to abandon some of those theories in favor of public opinion, and/or moving the country forward is even more admirable when applied to governing. Having the ability to apply both traits, even though they are polarized, is what makes being successful in a political career unique.
A change of mind isn’t flip-flopping, it is being considerate of new or changing information. Issues like the Trans Pacific Partnership are tough issues with no perfect answer. There are a lot of what-ifs and constantly changing policy to consider. The closest of allies, honest and invested people, have differences of opinion. Constructive debate can render a decision. No one will get everything they want, but policy can be formed; policy that will likely need revision as change occurs. But, to avoid debate, stand on principle alone, and not show the strength to compromise is a complete abandonment of political duties. It is not failing if a policy does not work perfectly the first time, or needs amendment down the road. Ask Thomas Edison.
At the bar on Friday, espousing a belief and then doing something different may seem wishy-washy, but in politics the stakes are different. So, having a personal belief and showing the public a different face is not a political character flaw. It is being active and seeking the best possible result for this country moving forward.
People who have studied political science, have public service experience, or have military leadership under their belts understand these difficult to exercise, conflicting traits. Business leaders, those with a single area of interest, or folks who personally need the status quo in tact, will see political activity that seeks progress as lying.