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Politics and politicians …

By TJ Ray

Labels are often misleading. These days it is quite common to hear one guy address another as “Dog.” No disrespect or malice involved. Rather a note of friendship. In one context, words may denote a positive quality; in another, just the opposite. Take for instance a label we tag onto a passel of folks who get elected to some position: politician.

Consider these two definitions of the term. A politician is a person who is experienced in the art or science of politics, government, or administration — statesman. A person who engages in politics out of a wish for personal gain, as realized by holding a public office. Take a few minutes and jot down the names of all the elected people you voted for. Then ask which of the definitions fits the person’s performance. Truth is, most of us can’t do that because we quit thinking about candidates the moment they’re elected. We don’t check congressional or legislative votes to see what “our” folks did.

What we want and get

We go about our merry lives until something spectacular erupts. Then, friend, watch out. We’re all over the culprits: emails, phone calls, bristling letters. As most of my emails never get answered, I wondered what trash folder they go in. As I never speak to anyone more senior than an aide, I get no information about my concern. Letters are generally a waste of postage. Recently a letter came from one of our senators.

Excitedly, I sat down and tore it out, only to discover that it was probably the canned response to a wholly different question than the one I asked.

What we want from elected officials is an action that suits us — even if we don’t understand an issue clearly or have all the facts our representative had when he voted. But we do want him to act.

A recent hot topic locally was aired in three public hearings, after which not a single person with a vote had the integrity to make a motion to accept or deny a proposal. Citizens came and offered their views on the project. The developer offered reasons for the project. The board asked questions and got answers. Then — nothing. That stinks.

It stinks to the same degree that a candidate who runs on one party’s ticket suddenly and unexpectedly switches parties after the election.

Lots of issues

But lest all blame be heaped on those folks, pause and consider how many disparate issues come across their desks and how many voices are in their ears telling them how to vote. We voters give the chosen a lot of grief, starting with the citizens who stay home on election day because they don’t want to have anything to do with crooked politics. They have a lot more to do with crooked politics than they think. Skipping the trip to the polls is part of their ideology. As George Burns observed, “Too bad that all the people who know how to run the country are busy driving taxicabs and cutting hair.”

Another comedian, George Carlin, did a fine job of skewering the public about attacking politicians: “Everybody complains about politicians. Everybody says they suck. Well, where do people think these politicians come from? They don’t fall out of the sky. They don’t pass through a membrane from another reality. They come from American parents and American families, American homes, American schools, American churches, American businesses and American universities, and they are elected by American citizens.”

Valuable insights

Perhaps a few insights about politics are a good way to end this:

We hang the petty thieves and appoint the great ones to public office. — Aesop

If we got one-tenth of what was promised to us in these acceptance speeches there wouldn’t be any inducement to go to heaven. — Will Rogers

Those who are too smart to engage in politics are punished by being governed by those who are dumber. — Plato

Politicians are the same all over. They promise to build a bridge even where there is no river. — Nikita Khrushchev

When I was a boy I was told that anybody could become President; I’m beginning to believe it. — Clarence Darrow

Why pay money to have your family tree traced; go into politics and your opponents will do it for you. — Author Unknown

Politicians are people who, when they see light at the end of the tunnel, go out and buy some more tunnel. — John Quinton

Politics is the gentle art of getting votes from the poor and campaign funds from the rich, by promising to protect each from the other. — Oscar Ameringer

A politician is a fellow who will lay down your life for his country. — Texas Guinan

I have come to the conclusion that politics is too serious a matter to be left to the politicians. — Charles de Gaulle

Instead of giving a politician the keys to the city, it might be better to change the locks. — Doug Larson

Don’t vote: it only encourages them. — Author unknown

There ought to be one day – just one – when there is open season on senators. — Will Rogers

Now then, we just need to keep reminding politicians that they’ve been appointed and thinking they’ve been anointed. And teach the public that a working democracy is a participatory one.

We get out of government pretty much was we put into it.

TJ Ray is a retired professor of English at Ole Miss.