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What The Heck Do Voters Want Anyways?: A Rare Defense of The American Politician

[1]“They are all weasels.” “You can’t trust any of them so why should I care?” “All they care about is getting re-elected so what’s the point?”

For generations the biggest criticism of politics, and one that drives
millions of Americans to “tune out,” is that politicians say one thing then do
another.  This is the sentiment expressed by our friends who hate politics, and we all have them, when they say various forms of the quotes listed above. The sad truth is that even for those of us who love it, it’s a point that proves hard to argue.

If the problem was this simple I would say that the solution would be equally so, but there is more at play here. The surest and quickest way to remove political hypocrisy and gamesmanship from the landscape is to stop electing and re-electing career politicians. There are certainly potential downsides to electing less experienced political leaders, I won’t go into them here, but dishonesty and duplicity are not among them. By both nature and definition it stands to reason that politicians will play politics, and that you have a much better chance of getting principled leadership and conviction from those who are not. While far from groundbreaking this logic is undeniable and the beauty of it is that it would work equally well for both sides of the aisle…a true bi-partisan solution. So what’s the catch?

While this addresses the much complained about problem of political hypocrisy, it leaves untouched a problem that no one ever seems to talk about…voter hypocrisy. That’s right, it’s time to turn the lens on the American voter and call them out for being engaged in the same hypocrisy that they so readily detest. In doing so we will see that this group is subject to the same conflicting pressures encountered by our political class and that in some ways, even beyond continuing to elect legi-saurs, they are partially to blame for the unsatisfying results.

While a large number of Americans complain that politicians in general do not have the conviction to say what they’ll do and then do what they say, when an impasse on a piece of legislation is reached between the parties what do the people want then? Ah yes…compromise. Poll after poll tells us that a majority want the sides to work together and get something done. After all that’s why we send them to Washington right? When the politicians don’t, a plurality of people decry this terrible gridlock and say it proves that Washington is broken.

These utterly conflicting desires create a picture harder to decipher than a kindergarten finger painting. Beyond illogical, this could be a case study for a class aimed at teaching how to construct a circle of confusion. Here would be the lesson plan; first claim that politicians are dishonest weasels because they toss aside principle by saying one thing and doing another. Then when, precisely by staying principled, they encounter resistance from the other side, then tell them that they should discard their principles in favor of a compromise in order to get something done. This is voter hypocrisy. Though they both sound nice when considered separately, you simply can’t champion conviction while calling for compromise. You have to pick one or the other.

I for one, and likely you since you are reading this, decided long ago that compromise is seldom the best choice and is even less often a righteous goal. While it may work in deciding where to go for dinner or what movie to see, the middle ground of diametrically opposed political philosophies is an unlikely place to find a sound solution. All ideas are not equal. More often than not a specific problem has one solution that is superior to all others. If you and a friend get lost while hiking in the woods and you think the way back to the car is North and they think its South, you don’t “compromise” and start walking East! A political compromise that consists of a mixture of a right and wrong approach is a different scenario, but yields the same result—you heading in the wrong direction.

There is no doubt that in a two party system like ours compromise is going to be a part of nearly every outcome. What is so confounding is how this can be so widely viewed as a desirable conclusion, and my explanation for this is admittedly cynical. While it is unavoidable, the point is that for those who take the time to learn and analyze the tenets of the two ideologies and the facts surrounding each debate, this compromise is most certainly a necessary evil. That so many Americans apparently want conviction and compromise simultaneously reflects the long known and discouraging reality that they are neither very informed on, nor engaged in, the political issues we face. Simply put, if you have an informed, developed, and therefore strong opinion on something you do not encourage compromise, you begrudgingly accept it.

These conflicting political pressures create a confusing environment for our elected officials to navigate in, and in this sense I empathize with them. If the criticism being hurled at politicians involves lack of conviction, it is usually deserved and I am largely on board. When it comes to hammering them for not compromising and blaming them for gridlock, nothing could be more ridiculous.

Though rarely defended, calling politicians dishonest weasels for not showing conviction and then slamming them for “not getting things done” when they do stand on principle is wholly unfair. Worse yet it demonstrates a shallow and hypocritical position. It is not too often that the script is flipped on the American voter and instead of giving criticism they are getting it, but you have to call them how you see them. What one sees in this case is that the politicians are not the only ones sending mixed messages.


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