Sunday, October 22, 2006

The corrosive nature of politics

As a rule of thumb, I tend not to watch a lot of MSM reporting on politics and elections. It seems that there are common threads about how base it is, how negative it is, how corrupt, etc. This is not news to me, and historically we're a lot better in a lot of respects than 100 years ago (it is just that this information is more widely disseminated today than then). My own experience in politics would suggest that there are two related phenomenon that makes it a whole lot worse than it needs to be.

First, one needs to look at political parties and the people who make them what they are. In my 20+ years in party politics, I can pretty well split people who are members into two groups: the true believers and (for a lack of a better term) the self-serving. The true believers are always there; they are a minority of any party, but they are the ones who are there in good times and bad, stuffing the envelopes, volunteering, and keeping things going. The true believers of any party are in a political party for a more altruistic purpose. They sincerely believe that what they believe is just, and strive through the political process to have their beliefs become public policy.

The other group, the self-servers, are more cyclical in their actions. They tend to show up when the party is on a uptrend, using the apparatus as a means for personal gains. They see the party as a means of gaining power and the perks that go with it. They have disdain for the true believers, and are willing to compromise principles for the sake of power. In conservative politics, there are ample examples of this: compare the Republicans in congress in 1994 versus now, or the Mike Harris conservatives in 1995 versus 2000. All start off with conservative agendas and then gradually discard them as they "grow" in office and discard their core values for 'competency'. The same analogies can be seen in parties on the left as well. What ultimately happens is that a party drifts too far from its core principles, alienates the true believers, becomes lethargic as a result, and is swept away by electoral fortunes.

One of the ways that a conservative would argue that this could be addressed is to make the stakes less vital. Because of all the money and power involved, politics tends to gravitate towards the lowest common dominator and attracts the vain and power hungry. A coconservative argument would be if government was more limited, the lure of such power would be less, and would shift the nature of politicians from the power-hungry to the more public service oriented. The problem with this solution, that of returning the role of government to a limited role and maximizing the liberty of the citizenry, runs opposite to those of the left, who see government as the talismanic solution to all problems real and perceived.

No comments: