Will anyone stand up for our beleaguered politicians? No?
We are into another federal election in Canada. Here, where provincial and federal elections are based on the ability of a government to sustain its support and not on fixed terms, it can seem that we are always in the midst of one election cycle or another – local, provincial or federal.
During the campaign we will hear a lot of partisan politics. But we will also hear a lot of coffee-shop grumping about “unnecessary” elections. While others in the world are protesting their lack of access to elections, we complain about yet another campaign.
Then those latte-fueled rants will morph into generalized complaints about politicians. In polls that measure respect for professions, politicians typically rank on the lowest rungs, a stop above or below used car sales people.
OK, I know that much disrespect is earned. Dishonesty. Questionable backroom tactics. Ethical challenges.
This is unfortunately part of what we get in a world of power struggles – in an adversarial and often dysfunctional system, designed hundreds of years ago. Wildly divergent interest groups, constituent needs, societal trends and influences. Life in politics is like living in a huge glass pressure-cooker.
So shouldn’t our focus be on recruiting and encouraging the best people for these demanding roles, rather than painting everyone in the profession as a pariah and ne’er-do-well?
The common observation is that politicians are a breed apart, strange creatures who connive their way onto the gravy train and then cling to it for life. Jeffrey Simpson takes that line in a recent opinion piece in The Globe and Mail.
Well hello? People have good jobs and want to keep them. Where is the news here?
Imagine the hue and cry if each of us had to re-compete for our jobs every three years or so, on an unpredictable schedule. “Lorne, good job you have been doing there, but we’re canceling your employment in seven weeks. Please re-apply for your position. We will give it to the most popular candidate.”
How many of us voluntarily walk away from jobs we enjoy and feel competent at, just to give someone else a chance?
Politicians, it is also said, are incapable of holding down “real” jobs in the “real” world.
I think I have a reasonably balanced perspective on workplaces. In addition to having volunteered on a handful of election campaigns, I have worked in the public service, in academia, and in the private sector. In all those sectors, I see people who would have significant difficulty working in other sectors or other lines of work.
I have seen many successful business owners who couldn’t teach their way through a basic arithmetic class. Academics who couldn’t run a service business for an hour, let alone a year. Public servants who would fall on their faces without the structure and support of bureaucratic systems and infrastructure.
Yet we don’t deride successful, competent people in these fields. A successful entrepreneur is a wonderful thing, as is a bright and inspiring professor, as is a caring and astute social worker.
When we turn our eye to politicians, though, we mock those who fail and try to pull down those who succeed at their chosen line of work.
Even more despised than a politician is that thing we call a “career politician”. We speak the term with distaste, as if clinging to the antiquated idea that our elected officials should just be nurses or pharmacists (always highly respected professions) who take a few years out to represent our interests.
Why do we refuse to see the skill set that a politician requires? Here’s where it gets interesting. Ask me, ask your coffee buddy, ask your neighbor – who among us thinks they have the skills, character, resilience and social aptitude to do a spectacular job of being an elected official?
Who would really enjoy having to ask others to help them get their job – to volunteer their time and write cheques?
Everyone who answered yes, please put your name on a nomination form.
The rest of us would wise to cut the candidates just a wee bit of slack.
My take on this is probably not a popular one. But then I’m not running for anything.
Comic by Bish