Post by Brian Fauls, Loudoun Chamber’s Government Affairs Manager
“Kick ’em when they’re up
Kick ’em when they’re down
Kick ’em when they’re up
Kick ’em when they’re down”
– Dirty Laundry by Don Henley
Politics needs a few (more) good people
Most people have probably heard the famous story that upon exiting the Constitutional Convention Benjamin Franklin was approached by a group of citizens asking what sort of government the delegates had created. His answer was: “A republic, if you can keep it.”
What is far, far, less well known (in fact the story is probably only known by political junkies like me) is what Benjamin Franklin said inside Independence Hall during his final speech to the Constitutional Convention. Franklin rose to give his assessment of the document the delegates had spent four difficult months crafting. He said: “…when you assemble a number of men to have the advantage of their joint wisdom, you inevitably assemble with those men, all their prejudices, their passions, their errors of opinion, their local interests, and their selfish views.” Consequently, he thought it impossible to expect a “perfect production” from such a gathering, but he believed that the Constitution they had just drafted, “with all its faults,” was better than any alternative that was likely to emerge.
I have always liked this speech because of its explicit acknowledgement that deeply flawed human beings can still make good (not perfect) public policy. It is a lesson that I worry America has completely forgotten; because it seems to me that political discourse is increasingly no longer focused on the wisdom or practicality of a particular public policy but instead on the prejudices, passions, errors of opinion, parochial interests, and selfish views of the politicians supporting or opposing said policy.
This certainly isn’t a new phenomenon. In fact, in the 1990s the practice acquired its own catchy name, “the politics of personal destruction.” However, the advent of social media, the 24/7 news cycle, and professional campaign trackers, who sole job in life is to provoke candidates into an violent outbursts, have raised the politics of personal destruction bar to new and potentially dangerous heights.
To be fair, some prejudices and errors of opinion do rise to the level of disqualifying a politician from holding office. But not every mole hill is a mountain, and we do a disservice to ourselves collectively by trying to make every mole hill into a mountain. The more we focus and opine on the flaws – real or imagined – of the politicians, the more, it seems to me, that we succeed in driving good people away from public service.
Under the circumstances, I often ask myself why anyone runs for office at all. Yet, they do, and there seems to be no shortage of volunteers.
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