The Last Word
No one has told you this yet but you just don’t understand. Don’t worry. It’s perfectly natural. See, you’re not in Concord. I don’t understand either but I know the people who do.
The informed people fall into two groups. First of all, the bad guys are “politicians.” They’re political and calculating and everything they do can be dismissed as just more politics. Despicable, aren’t they?
The good guys are “lawmakers” and “elected officials.” These are the noble officials we elect to dispassionately make laws for the betterment of us all. Everyone I vote for is a noble lawmaker. When they do something I don’t like they become dreaded politicians.
The naive person thinks that we might be able to predict a politician’s actions by their public comments during the election. The theory supposes that a candidate will take a position on the issues of the day, debate the merits publicly before the electorate and then act as advertised should his fellow citizens support his platform. Doesn’t that sound nice?
In reality, people who try and keep their promises are “hardheaded” and “uncompromising.” Remember when Governor Benson said he’d veto the budget if it raised taxes, even the cigarette tax? That is after all what he explicitly promised during his campaign. He might have thought he would be expected to keep that promise. But promise-keeping just proved “he didn’t understand the way government works.” How very sad.
The problem is that “the electorate” (that’s you and me, by the way, the regular uninformed people) doesn’t understand. Once you get inside the Granite Walls of the State House, you’re part of an inner circle, the few, the proud, the informed intelligentsia. It’s time to forget those hasty promises you made to get elected. You need to “grow in office” and “become a statesman.”
Take the pesky issue of taxes. We like people who promise they won’t “raise our taxes.” But once you’ve entered the Granite Walls, the new air is very refreshing.
The new air tells you it’s time to “be responsible” and we may need some “revenue enhancement.” Now, why is it that every time someone is responsible they enhance themselves to what used to be my money?
If you watch carefully, you can see how they grow. They don’t announce that they’ve decided to break a promise. Instead, they send up a cautious note of careful and calculated consideration for all to see, announcing themselves as skeptics.
“I will not support this change unless – unless, mind you — I can be absolutely convinced that we can do this without impacting the wonderful quality of life of our great state.”
Well, now you’re done for. Of course, all that evidence was floating around during the election, so surely he knows what it is. However, he’s suckered us in. He’s pre-announced the reason he’ll give for change so we can see how consistent he is when the “responsible reform” is announced.
The best part occurs at the next election. The politician – scratch that, he’s become a statesman — will explain to anyone who feels misled that he’s the sort of person who “gets things done.” He “brought people together” for “lasting reform.” Now we have to vote for him because he has experience and “can make a difference.”
But this time he’s going to do just what he says. I’m sure of it.
Charlie Arlinghaus is president of The Josiah Bartlett Center for Public Policy.