© Josh Sager – July 2016
During a recent House Democratic caucus meeting, several Democratic politicians booed Bernie and demanded that he immediately endorse Hillary Clinton. Normally, this wouldn’t be an important story—after all, there are many staunch Hillary loyalists in the political establishment—but the exact reason why these politicians started to boo Bernie illustrates one of the largest problems in politics today.
One of the congressmen to boo Bernie gave several quotes to Politico about this incident, on the condition of anonymity (very brave of him/her)—here is one of the quotes:
“To say, as he did, that the goal is not to win elections but for people to embrace his ideas is disconnected from what we are trying to do here.”
This congressman is arguing that the central goal of politicians should be to get elected and that pushing progressive policy reforms like those advocated by Bernie are only of secondary importance. This is an illustration of a widespread problem in American politics, where politicians focus exclusively on perpetuating their own power and not actually advocating for the best policies for the American people. This is an issue on both sides of the political aisle that few politicians are willing to address, if only because many of their political allies fit into this category.
Politicians who forget that they are elected in order to serve their constituents and begin caring more about keeping their position of power (and steady income with generous benefits) than actually doing their job, have become a blight on our political system. Here are several common characteristics that are shared by many of these politicians:
- They push cosmetic changes to policy and miniscule incrementalism, while declaring any achievement to be historic, if not a panacea;
- During elections, they promise the electorate whatever polls show is popular, but are unwilling to actually put in the work to pursue these policies once they win reelection.
- They develop a herd mentality, where they follow party leadership even when the elite propose policies that are deeply unpopular with real Americans (e.g. fast track for the TPP);
- They are willing to cater to the desires of the moneyed elite in exchange for political support.
Unfortunately, in the post-Citizens United political environment, the congressional candidate with more money defeats the candidate with less money over 90% of the time. This means that self-serving politicians, who don’t really care about policy results, can easily rationalize taking millions of dollars from big business and interest groups, because doing so will help them stay in power—any policy favors to the elite (e.g. depressing wages, cutting regulations, etc.) in exchange for moneyed support are seen as acceptable concessions to achieve the primary goal.
To deflect criticisms, politicians who care more about personal power than policy results typically fall back to the partisan line, arguing that they are simply trying to maintain/gain a party majority. They justify their willingness to embrace donors and unwillingness to fight for the policies preferred by their constituents by asserting that pursuing those policies would allow the “evil” other side to take power. In effect, they are arguing that they can’t do their job (enact the policies preferred by their constituents) because doing their job would let the other side take power and prevent them from doing their job.
Removing power-hungry and unprincipled politicians from office is a multi-election cycle effort that requires voters to stay informed and not fall for cheap rhetorical tricks. Obviously, this isn’t easy to achieve, but we must work towards this goal, starting in 2016.