I believe that most of us can look back and remember a teacher, perhaps even a moment with that teacher, that had a profound, lasting, and unexpected impact on the shape of our philosophy and the way we frame our thoughts. For me, that teacher was Tom Carlin, Bishop Alemany HS, US history, 1969. The moment came when Mr. Carlin posed this question to the class: “What is the primary job of a politician?” His answer, which elicited some discussion, was “To get elected.” As I thought about this, the truth of his statement became increasingly self-evident. A politician, say a candidate for Congress, no matter how altruistic his goals, how noble his aspirations, can’t fulfill those aspirations if he doesn’t get the votes on the first Tuesday of November. He must first attend to his primary job.
But it seems that for most, the mindset that got him elected tends to remain with him once he is sworn in as a member of that august body. He gets to work on his main job, getting re-elected. If he is able to do some good things for his constituents, or the country as a whole, so much the better. But that is secondary. He still has a job to do.
Did you ever walk out to your mailbox, maybe around election time, and find a “newsletter” (produced & mailed at taxpayer expense as “official business”) sent by your representative in Congress? This letter will have pictures of the member of Congress, usually with some local officials, at an awards dinner, or some such function. There will be some survey questions (as if he cared about your opinion — he is, after all, so much smarter than you are) about various issues. And, of course, the obligatory box of numbers, detailing all of the federal dollars that your congressman was clever enough to procure for worthy projects in the district. But for some reason, the distinguished member failed to mention that, for every dollar he brings in to fund special interests in your district, he has to pull a buck out of the pocket of one of his constituents, to give to some other distinguished member for pork in that member’s town. This will allow that other distinguished member to stand erect in his district, produce a glitzy newsletter, be returned to Washington, and continue to do to his constituents what erect members do.
Simple fact of life:
Democrat or Republican, liberal or conservative, they’re all politicians. They, like all of us, must attend to their primary job.