I have been a “government watcher” since coming to Washington in 1959. I’ve been doing it as a regular job since 1968 as a writer, lobbyist and representative for industrial America. So I have a perspective about political animals that is somewhat unique; a view that I think is not really understood by most Americans but one that I want to share with you here.
As a backdrop, when I went to work in the aerospace industry, my office-mate was from Kansas City and a recently defeated candidate for Congress. The answer to my question of why he ran still haunts me: “It would be a great pay increase, and it is a license to steal.”
Watching those in and out of office,regardless of party, this is the motivation, I contend, for many seeking elective office, especially state and national elected officials who have prior campaign experience and have learned arts of deception. Politicians are self-taught to say what they believe voters want to hear, so few have compunctions about lying. They become elitists after election, losing personal touch with the realities that brought them to office and believe themselves exempt from standards expected from the lesser people who elected them. Politicians most always become arrogant. This sounds very harsh, but my years of contact with the political class in Washington bears it out.
Let me add that the context of my experience has been in representing large and small industry on the Hill and doing studies for federal Executive and Legislative offices in assignments requiring the highest level of clearances and accesses. My major job has been to bring new technology from the private sector to defense and intelligence-community users. I learned from personal experience that nationally elected politicians are dishonest to varying degrees.
Fast-forward to the present. One thing Americans cannot abide is arrogance in politicians, talking about and doing things that an overwhelming majority of people do not want. This elitism covers the President and the entire executive staff plus members of both the House and Senate. It is mostly without party distinction. Topics of public frustration include: countenance of illegal aliens (not to be confused with legal immigrants, who Americans welcome); appointing Czars unaccountable to the people; edicts (not legal appropriations) for “stimulus funds” that spend unimaginably large sums of money that redistributes and devalues personal wealth under the guise of creating jobs; and attempts to impose health care and energy taxes under a false rubric of reform.
The public is outraged at voter intimidation by union thugs with flagrant violations of state voter registration laws, ACORN’s blatantly illegal activities without correction or meaningful retribution, and multiple interventions by government in private-sector affairs that are patently unconstitutional. Such events are not explained to the public by mainstream media, which through errors of omission and commission seek to obscure truth and sell political philosophy. So, the public is disenchanted with government and the face of all politicians. Further, when politicians are confronted with public ire, they are often not available to receive it or don’t get it because they are out of touch with constituent views. The defense by a politician is to lie, i.e. to “tell the public what they want to hear.” So rhetoric the electorate hears should not be believed, as the words and ideas are mostly false.
What to do about politicians is difficult. Outright corruption by government costs world governments $1.6 trillion annually. The U.S. is among the best of countries and is fortunately not a kleptocracy. (To assess really bad behavior, see an annual study at www.globalintegrity.org or the World Bank survey of 3,600 firms in 69 nations that found half were involved in corrupt practices at some time.)
America, however, has an epidemic problem with pork-barrel spending (10,600 items in the current budget, and I’ll wager that no reader of this journal works at a company that got a goodie). Pork-barrel spending is a corrupt practice because there is a quid pro quo for politicians. It is well past time for industrial America to lead the way to resist this selfishness and to assist re-establishing governance.
I’ve spent my life listening to politicians lie, and I caution you that they will not change. Their successors may change, but it might take a few election cycles to purge the system. Ronald Reagan reminded us that changing politicians is like changing a baby’s diaper; it must be done often and for the same reason. America is at a crossroads looking toward the future, where, politically, it is time to clean up our act. IH
Would you like to ask Barry Ashby a question? If so, please direct your query to firstname.lastname@example.org.