All Commentary
Thursday, April 1, 1993

Judging Politicians

It is not unrealistic to seek the best among us to represent us.

Rick H. White worked for Ayn Rand back in the ‘60s and managed the Nathaniel Branden Institute Book Service. He resides in Tampa, Florida.

Perhaps the greatest single problem facing the American voter over the next few years is the fact that too many of our elected representatives do not really understand the system that they have been elected to uphold and defend.

The actions and utterances of politicians from city hall to the U.S. Capitol reveal, at best, a failure to appreciate our Constitution and its basic principles or, at worst, an outright contempt for the system that has built this nation.

Many elected officials firmly believe that they know better what is good for us than do the voters who elected them. Some believe that we must be tricked or coerced into doing the “right thing.” Many apparently view the Constitution and the Bill of Rights as ancient documents that simply get in their way and must be outmaneuvered at every turn. Many of our elected officials have demonstrated that they are incapable of leading their own lives in a rational manner but believe they are capable of dictating how the rest of us should live ours.

This doubting of our Constitution is not a new phenomenon. Many good men who fought and bled for the birth of our nation had serious doubts about whether or not our form of government could endure. Nations, until ours, had generally been ruled by some sort of elitist class and the very idea that a government could be drawn from the “common herd” was laughable to many.

The strength of our Constitution has been proven by the fact that despite decades of elected representatives chipping away at it and trying to destroy its foundations, it is still the soundest document ever devised by, and for, men who wish to live together in peace. Those foundations have been eroded to an alarming degree, but the basic principles are intact and still holding this nation together. Our Constitution is still the envy of much of the world and the model others follow.

The most spectacular success stories of the post-World War II era are the countries that emulated us, Japan and West Germany. The most spectacular failures of the same period are those of the Soviet Union and its satellites who believed in a controlled economy and an all-powerful central government.

In the future, we need to start seeing our politicians in a new light. We have been demanding a handful of solutions to a few specific problems while paying little or no attention to the principles a particular politician espouses. For far too long we have been willing to elect the least objectionable candidate who sought the job rather than seeking out the best among us.

The past year or two have shown that a great many voters are tired of the status quo. But this voters’ rebellion has been without a cause, simply striking out at political “ins” without a constructive formula for correcting the evils that exist.

We all have our little axes to grind. If a man can come up with the proper bromides to appease a majority of us, he’s in, even though we know nothing of his principles.

If a politician has a specific formula for creating more jobs and improving our economy, fine, we should hear it, but more important are the principles upon which that politician can he expected to act during his term in office. Does he believe in limited government or in cradle-to-grave protection? Does he believe in a free-market economy or in government intervention and management? If you really know the principles upon which a person is acting, you know what his specific actions will be in regard to specific problems.

The erosion of many of our freedoms and much of our success economically has been accomplished with, if not our blessings, more than a little help from us who vote without thinking about what we are really getting.

How can we seriously believe that someone who has bounced checks every month for years is going to handle national finances astutely? Such a person doesn’t understand financial problems and certainly doesn’t know how to make long-range plans.

How can we take seriously the moral leadership of someone who admits having spent years cheating on his spouse? If he would cheat the person he supposedly loves above all others, why wouldn’t he cheat the rest of us?

How do you believe someone who says, “Yes, such-and-such company has contributed millions to my political campaigns over the years, but I don’t owe them anything”? He is either telling a lie or, perhaps worse, if he really believes that nothing is expected in return for those millions, is so naive that he is dangerous.

Should we expect perfection? Why not? You may never find it, but you should always seek it.

There are certain requirements that go with certain jobs. You don’t hire a bank teller who is known to gamble away his salary on the horses every week. You don’t hire a policeman who has a $200-a-day cocaine habit. You don’t seek spiritual help from a minister who gets drunk every night and beats his wife. We demand certain things from bank tellers, policemen, ministers, and others. Should we expect less from our elected representatives? Being an elected representative demands a high degree of integrity and an absorbing dedication to correct principles.


A Matter of Character

When an individual gets into debt over his head, drinks too much, or cheats on his wife, we ignore it and say it is his business. The fallout from his actions is limited to those immediately involved with him. When an elected representative does such things it is everyone’s business. It speaks of character flaws that we cannot tolerate in one who is responsible for our lives in so many ways.

Is this a double standard? One set of rules for us mere mortals and another for our elected representatives? You bet it is. When a man decides to be a police officer he knows that certain types of personal behavior are precluded. It is the same for most of us to one degree or another. Banker, doctor, lawyer, priest, employer, employee, parent—whatever our role in life we have certain obligations that preclude certain acts. An elected representative should be as much above reproach as he is capable of making himself. If you don’t like the standards, don’t run for public office. If you can’t take the heat, get out of the kitchen.

The best of us make mistakes, but a mistake is one thing, a way of life is another. We must begin seriously seeking, for city and county commissions, state and federal offices, people who seriously believe in the principles of a free market, private enterprise, and limited government. Not those with glib answers and a quick fix, but those who can stay the course.

It is not unrealistic to seek the best among us to represent us. It is unrealistic, and dangerous, to think we can survive without principles and without elected representatives who believe in those principles.