The Debating Chamber

The Odium of Modern Politicians

The public hates partisan politicking.  Over and over, in virtually all Western democratic constituencies, the proverbial “man-in-the-street” professes disgust at politicians always trying to score (usually lame) points off one another.  (The one arguable exception is Australia where the public seems genuinely to admire politicians who rip their opponents up one side and down the other.) 

Consequently, the public tends to complain against politicians and in the job-admiration surveys politicians generally hover around the used-care-salesman rankings–which is probably being unfair to the latter.

Those closer to the actual workings of representative chambers will tell us that most of the real work goes on behind closed doors in committees and that representatives actually do a great deal of positive work; partisan wrangling in committees is more muted.  Thus, we are told, we ought not to judge politicians by their public posturing. 

We beg to differ.  We accept the point about more constructive behaviour during deliberative committee work.  But it does not excuse the public displays of childish, petulant behaviour that is stock-in-trade for many politicians when in public view.  It behoves politicians, we believe, always to give higher fidelity to the public good (however they may conceive it) than to their own political fortunes.  If they were to do so, then they would engage in a lot less reckless politicking in public, and would be much more inclined to work constructively and deliberatively with political opponents, rather than attempting to score cheap political debating points in an attempt to “cut through” and gain electoral traction. 

Everyone knows that the family which is constantly arguing, cutting one another down with dripping sarcasm, perpetually refuting one another for form’s sake, would not survive.  Family life would quickly become non-existent, the family dysfunctional.  The same is true for businesses or any other corporate enterprise.  Since everyone knows that such behaviour tears down and is ultimately destructive for the common good they hold politicians in disdain because they know their selfish behaviour does not do the country any good. 

It becomes inevitable that politicians–particularly when they are languishing in the polls–so pervert their understanding of the common good that they come to identify themselves and their parties with the righteous, and their opponents as destructive of the nation itself.  We see this in Parliament now as non-governmental parties wrangle and argue over the attempts by the Government to close a legal loophole in order to allow police to continue undercover surveillance. 

We are not expecting any change.  Politics and politicians cannot escape the limitations of their own character.  It is because they are depraved and given over to arrogance and self-seeking and vanities that they behave this way. 

Honourable men and women are not made so by virtue of the offices they hold: they bring the honour and virtue to the office and ennoble it.  We are sorely lacking politicians (and political parties) of honour, integrity, and good character. 

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