Tuesday, May 18, 2010

the bravery of politicians

I know that many Americans, historically and now, have a very jaded view of politicians. I was especially troubled when many of my students who were senior military officers were openly disdainful of the constitutional officers whom they were sworn to obey. And while military personnel have to risk their lives, it is important to remember that political candidates regularly risk something almost as precious -- their honor.

Think what they have to do. They have to ask people for money -- not for a worthy cause, but for themselves. They have to endure the often surly and ill-informed questions and criticisms of voters. Although they may be bright, and accomplished in their profession, they regularly enter contests which fewer than half of them can win.

The agony of defeat, of rejection by one's friends and neighbors, must be very painful. [I don't know myself; I've never been brave enough to risk running for office and doing those things a successful candidate must do.]

And what are the fruits of victory? A job that requires them to maintain two residences, one at home and one in Washington. A salary that, adjusting for inflation, is less than what Members were paid in 1955. Fewer and fewer perks every year -- and more and more abuse from angry voters.

Yes, they have the power to vote on pubic policies and budgets, and the diminished prestige of being a constitutional officer. While some are venal and corrupt, most are hard-working and sincere. And they are brave for risking their reputations in democratic elections.

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