Essay on Politics

I haven’t written anything in a while, so I figure I may as well post this essay I recently wrote up for my writing class. I feel like it is fairly solid all-around, with some weaker points that could use some touching up or shortening. It’s just a copy-paste from the OpenOffice document, so there may be some formatting oddities here and there. The opinions expressed here are, to a greater or lesser degree, mine; this essay is not an exploration of an opposing viewpoint, but an expression of mine.

Static Politics
The changing of the guard in congress is often portrayed to be an important event. There is a lot of rhetoric amongst candidates about things that need to change, and there are often profound dichotomies between candidates which give the impression that no matter who wins, change will come. However, more often than not, little becomes of these discourses following the election cycle. Once elected, politicians as a whole resume the same business they were engaged in previously. Elected officials have agendas separate from their constituents, and the constituents themselves are unaware of what agenda they need the most. In the end, politicians, new or old, will continue to be either unwilling or incapable of enacting policies for the good of all society. So long as this stays true, the change of political powers in congress will not, by itself, have a positive effect on the country.
When the 37th president of the United States, Richard Nixon, was first elected to office, he had made the lofty promise to end the highly controversial Vietnam war. It quickly became clear that this promise was either misleading or an outright lie, and the Vietnam war would eventually outlast Nixon’s short-lived second term (Election Promise). This broken promise exemplifies the temporary nature of all of a candidate’s promises made during the election cycle. When an election comes about, candidates mobilize themselves into action. They become very vocal about the things they believe in; they strive to highlight their differences and obscure their similarities with opponents; they invent slogans, craft a platform, and tour their constituency. The election-time political environment is always electric, because every candidate is doing his very best to make himself unique, interesting, and, most of all, in line with the people’s interests. This politician, the personable, receptive public figure, is a rare beast outside of the election cycle. When the election is over, a politician, whether the incumbent or a new face, is free to begin carving out his actual political philosophy through his voting record. The candidate usually does keep up an image that agrees with the population base that voted for him in order to remain viable for next election. However, this still leaves a lot of lenience for things completely unrelated to the constituent’s interests. The politicians that people elect can get away with a lot, which means that short of impeachment they have free reign to make a mess of their campaign persona, and they often do.
Even when newly-elected figures stay true to their platforms, it can be difficult for them to get things done. Politics is all about pulling strings and knowing the right people, and these things come with experience and time in office. New electees are often still trying to carve out their niche in the political environment. The larger the system they are trying to influence, the more difficult it is for a politician to get anything done alone. Over time, a politician gains what he needs to succeed in his business, but with this he becomes increasingly disillusioned with the risks he was formerly willing to take. Allies won and compromises made depend on reliability, and he becomes entangled in the political system he set out to change. It is somewhat of a paradox that the politicians most capable of getting things done are the ones who do the least. More experienced figures have the ability to make an impact when they want to, while newcomers still learning the ropes try to carry unpolished ideas on their back. By the time a maverick politician has adjusted himself to the scene and made himself important, it is all too likely that he has lost his rebel streak and his desire to shake things up in the first place. Images of John McCain, the self-proclaimed maverick who nearly won the 2008 presidential election, reaffirm this principle. McCain was continually burned by people on either side, some calling him a hypocrite for compromising on things he once fought hard for, and others calling him a radical not willing to represent Americans on the whole.
The tendency for politicians to become more tame the longer they hold office is an unfortunate fact of modern politics. Safer decisions tend to upset fewer people, which is, ultimately, the goal of a career politician. Standout figures are often the most charismatic, not the most innovative, ones, and those with genuine changes to propose to congress, if they are elected at all, are often also the first to go out. Risks become less necessary to take when an incumbent can rely on momentum and a ‘solid’ voting record to be re-elected. This fact is amplified by the American two-party system, which encourages everyone to vote squarely on one or another side of the spectrum. Statistics show that, amongst Oregonians in January 2010, barely 25% of the populace was registered to vote as something other than Democrat or Republican, with 80% of this number not registered under any party (Voter Reg. 8-9). The two-party system, endorsed by the majority of the population and therefore representing the will of the masses, is politically restrictive. Profound changes rarely sprout up out of unchanging structures. Democrats and Republicans alike will continue to have similar beliefs and to push similar policies, minimizing the potential for progress. The apparent will of the masses to be represented by either one type of politician or another leads to severe stagnation; things will stay more or less the same until external factors impose a change independent of congressional or gubernatorial intervention. Simply put, the nation elects representatives whose scope of policy is so narrow that there is practically no differentiation between politicians on either side of the spectrum, and new figures change nothing.
Of course, if a figure is not able to do what is right for the country, it is at least partly the fault of the voters who put him in office. One of the fundamental aspects of a republic is that the citizens vote for who they want to represent them in government. However, the people on the whole do not know what they want, much less what they need, when it comes to policy. People in general are only vaguely aware of politics, even if they regularly read about it, and their voting is often superficial and poorly researched. In 2007, roughly 60% of Americans could recognize Barack Obama, who would go on to become president following the 2008 election, while only 20% knew who the secretary of defense was at that time (Public Knowledge). For better or worse, the votes of the ignorant count the same as the votes of the informed in a democracy, which results in a vote that is largely disconnected from what is actually good for the country. An unfortunate side-effect of this is the alienation that thinking voters get from the election process. Voters that put effort into their votes begin to feel that thinking through their votes is unnecessary, and they either cease voting or cease putting effort into deciding upon who to vote for. When it isn’t research and careful judgment that leads voters to making decisions, it is often the flashy, well-publicized platforms of the two major parties, leading to the obfuscation of the smaller parties and their candidates. The gravity of the vote is nullified by the superficial manner most people cast theirs in, which results in elected officials who are either incapable or unwilling to do what the nation actually needs them to.
It turns out that no one is truly sure what the nation needs anyway. Politicians that try their very best to do what they think is right for the country can come out heroes or villains depending on how things work out. Consider Franklin D. Roosevelt, generally lauded as one of the most influential, important figures in American history. When he first proposed and pushed for the New Deal, a sweeping economic plan to put Americans back to work to end the Great Depression, there was a great deal of controversy over whether it would work. The nation had been suffering from record-high unemployment rates for years by then, and a failed policy could have ruined Roosevelt’s career. Over the next few years, the symptoms of the Great Depression improved, but they never fully went away until America entered World War II (Lessons 15-18). The resultant economic boost provided by wartime production vaulted the economy out of stagnation and back into its position as one of the most successful national economies. Critics argue to this day whether the New Deal was really successful in ending the Great Depression. Many have tried their hand at describing exactly what good policy is, but man is fickle and imperfect, and a positive change to one will be a negative to another.
While political systems can vary greatly, people ultimately cannot. There will always be greed, corruption, dishonesty, and incompetence within governments, as surely as they will always be with humanity. People elect those who represent them best, flawed beings who serve their own ends even while serving the ends of their constituents. The inherent imperfection of men transfers over to the political systems they have created and the leaders they follow. Elected officials cycle in and out, some more remarkable than others, but they are all fundamentally the same: they are human. A change of political powers could be positive or negative, especially when propelled by the wistful spirits of the uninformed, and the only surefire way to find a candidate capable of truly elevating a nation is by letting a perfect being choose him. Unless we find such a being, our politics will continue to be as unpredictable as humanity itself.

Works Cited:
(1)”Election Promise.” Wikipedia. Web. 22 Jan. 2011.
(2)“Voter Registration by County – January 2010.” Oregon Secretary of State. Oregon state government, 19 Feb. 2000. Web. 22 Jan. 2011.
(3)“Public Knowledge of Current Affairs Little Changed by News and Information Revolutions.” The Pew Research Center for the People & the Press. Pew Research Center, 15 Apr. 2007. Web. 22 Jan. 2011.
(4)Hannsgen, Greg and Papadimitriou, Dimitri B. “Lessons from the New Deal: Did the New Deal Prolong or Worsen the Great Depression?” Levy Economics Institute, Oct. 2009. Web. 22 Jan. 2011.

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Published in: on January 31, 2011 at 11:16 am  Leave a Comment  

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