30 April 2008

Some Thoughts on Politics

This is an abridged version of a post I made to a forum I contribute to:

There do seem to me to be two distinct types of politicians:

1. Policy wonks that really do like the legislative process, like serving "the public" (their definition of the public served may be different than yours or mine), like doing infrastructure stuff, love going to conferences and being in the UN and all that sort of thing. Call them "middle managers with an unlimited budget" if you will. They might lie from time to time, but dishonesty isn't their big problem, because they basically change whichever way the wind blows. They only lie to rationalise their lack of spine.

2. Power-hungry people who care about little else but acquiring power and pretending that they don't care about acquiring power -- the boldest and most bald-faced of liars. They're highly bribable, but only because money = more power. They're not interested in their legacy, they don't care about democracy or infrastructure or debt or what's good for the country or much of anything except acquiring -- and holding onto -- power. They don't even seem to much care about the consequences of them using or abusing their power so much as they do about having it.

Too many of Type 1 leads to a lot of waste, taxation, over-regulation, nitpicking, backstabbing and childishness.

Too many of Type 2 leads to authoritarianism, irresponsibility, corruption, hubris, arrogance, secrecy and bullying.

You can have both types in any given political party. It always seems to come down to the paper pushers vs the little Hitlers.

I think the secret to a decent government is having an involved public to keep both types in check. Neither group ever gets too much their own way.

Ultimately, the increasing apathy of the public is the the greatest danger in a democracy. These political types have been around forever, and with rare exceptions most of the leaders we've had fit into one of these two categories. So the politicians are not likely to change, it's their ability to function without check and balance that's gotten the world into trouble of late. Look at Bush, look at Putin -- much more alike than I think most Americans (or Russians) would admit. Neither would be able to do what they've gotten away with if the public didn't stand for it.

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