Friday, April 11, 2008

Professional Politicos

(News-Herald, April 10) There are lots of reasons to argue against the slow but steady intrusion of government into every nook and cranny of modern American life.

We could talk about the meddling, the separation of those who make decisions from those who must live with the consequences, the tendency of bureaucrats to get things wrong, or the way that government oversight makes endeavors stiff and inflexible, poorly positioned to deal with change.

Each of those is a valid complaint. I’ll probably get around to each of them sooner or later. But that’s not where I’m headed this week.

One problem with ever-spreading government is that it has created a widespread need for professional politicians.

My own profession is as good an example as any. Teaching has always been tied to government and bureaucracy; since we are an arm of government, that seems only natural.

Nowadays, the state and federal government make decisions about what I’ll in my classroom beyond anything we’ve ever seen before. Harrisburg and DC make choices about what I will do in the everyday-to-day practice of my profession.

But when politicians want to talk about education, they don’t want to talk to teachers. They want to talk to other politicians. And so we have the PSEA and the NEA, groups of politicians who are hired to go talk to politicians about education. I’m not a big fan of either group, and I often suspect that they feel a stronger allegiance to their fellow politicians than to the people who hire them.

But the bottom line is that politicians in Harrisburg or DC are not going to talk to me, not even if they have a question about teaching high school English in Venango County. So if I want to have any sort of voice in the decisions made about my profession at all, I need to hire politicians to speak for me.

My profession is by no means unique. Virtually every walk of life in this country has to hire rows of professional politicians. Doctors, lawyers, grocery store clerks, people of retirement age, left-handed basket weavers—if you want to be heard as politicians make decisions that change the shape of your life, you must hire a politician to speak for you. Employers and employees and customers don’t settle matters with each other; they send their hired representatives to battle it out in a capitol somewhere.

We call them lobbyists, but they are simply hired politicians (often retired from elected office), and each one is there because when politicians start deciding things, they want to talk to other politicians.

There was a time when Americans found their solutions locally. Problems were addressed by family solutions or neighborhood solutions or business solutions. Financial missteps and moral misjudgments were viewed as personal human problems. Now we treat them as political problems. If an issue needs to be addressed, we call for the hand of government. But any government solution is a political solution.

There was a time when we trotted out political solutions only for large problems, like the secession of half the country or massive widespread economic collapse or destroying the ugly legacy of segregation. But after discovering how effective that big club can be, we can’t resist picking it up for every little thing, and now we call for political solutions for smoking and bad salesmanship and dry cleaning chemicals and restaurant signage and spelling.

We don’t think we’re clamoring for more politics. We imagine that we are calling on the heroic figure of a good and just elected leadership. But whenever we call on the government, what we get is that guy-- “I’m from the government and I’m here to help you fill out these forms.” I hire my politician to go sic the major politicians on the people I think are the problem, and hire my politician to protect me from the politicians that other people have sicced on me.

The days where one could quietly stay in his corner and do a good job and be respected for that are fast fading. Doing a good job is not enough any more. You have to be able to sell it to a politician. And to have a voice in even the most simple parts of your own daily work and home life, you have to hire a politician to stand up for you, because no one else can.

1 comment:

Erie Blogwatch said...

An excellent essay ! Thanks very much for writing & publishing it.

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