In every election cycle we hear a great outcry about why we don’t need politicians who make a career out of serving the public in elected office. If you’ve heard it once you’ve heard it a hundred times: “I think the answer to our problem is to remove the incumbents and start all over.” We go through this again and again, yet the fact is this—most of the current members of the U.S. House of Representatives are career politicians. The same holds true for at least half or more of the Senate. And most presidents serve two terms unless they are truly ineffective or reap the whirlwind of a reaction against their one term in office.
The recent passing of Senator Mark Hatfield reminded me of the value of a genuinely good and decent career politician who had courage and served his state and the nation well. Though Hatfield was often on the wrong side of issues within his own party he expressed moral fortitude in many ways.
While I can support a good case for term limits I also believe that we need “good” career politicians. Some of these men and women are honorable and decent servants of the public interest. I am increasingly cynical about politics but not quite this cynical, at least not yet. I think our Founders wanted to make it possible for people to serve and remain in service for some time but also they intended to allow the people the opportunity to vote people out of office as well.
Consider the paradox of our elections. This is the only profession you can choose in which a lack of experience is considered by many to be a job qualification. Or, to put it the other way around, inexperience is considered a plus, not a negative.
Mitt Romney recently took a jab at Texas governor Rick Perry by saying, “Career politicians got us into this mess, and career politicians can’t get us out!” Really? Governor Romney, have you forgotten that you also served as a state chief executive and that you have been running for office for a long time now? And Sarah Palin took a swipe at Perry calling him a part of “the permanent political class.” I guess this is the price you pay if you are ahead in the polls.
But my point is not about these particular candidates. (I tend to tweak all of them in one way or another.) My point is that this attack on the whole idea of a career politician is just wrong. If some people are not “called” to this as a career public servant then what are we left with? Career amateur’s who are less than qualified? Our present president is a case in point. He had only two years of experience at the national level and this was trumpeted as a positive. I wonder what he will tell us in 2012. You know and so do I.
Imagine this line of reasoning applied to any other job. “I have little or no experience in this industry but I really would like this job.” It simply would not fly.
The argument for this stance is, however, made in a way that suggests that the governing of the country is not a business and little or no experience is actually required. Well, yes and no. Personally, I rather like the idea of a leader with some experience before he/she enters higher office. It is true that congress consists of former lawyers, doctors, businessmen/women and home makers. Politics is not brain science but it does help to have some serious life experience.
Finally, whenever I hear someone disdain the experience of a career politician I wonder what the attacker is actually saying. It seems to me that they are suggesting they should be elected to serve in an office that they somehow disdain, or at least think needs little or no experience to hold. Let them get elected and serve a few years and their song will change in almost every case.
Watch the rhetoric in an election year. A lot of it is downright silly if you really analyze it at all.