Every so often, maybe every two or three years, I'm asked by at least one person why I haven't run for office. "You'd make a great Congressman/Senator/President," they'll say.
I suppose it's true: I am pretty bright, can communicate well, have a large measure of compassion, and geet the human condition without being a soppy bleeding heart. My passion in life is to make connections that other people miss, to understand why something happens, which is the first step in making sure it does or does not happen again, as the case may be.
There are plenty of reasons why I have not. I suck at fundraising, for one thing. I never ask for money, even if I could, absent the occasional ad to sell my photographs or to hawk a book or my writing, or what have you.
But here's the real reason I haven't and probably never will run.
I'm no better than you or you or him or her, at the end of the day. That immediately disqualifies me from public office. It shouldn't, but it does. And I think you can trace the roots of many of the problems that beset this nation to that inarguable fact.
We the people insist our politicians be better than we are. Under all the glue-huffing about Teabaggers and elitists and egghead liberals, we want our politicians to be smarter, handsomer, richer, better hung (or have bigger breasts), more articulate and goshdarnit! more moral than we could ever hope to be.
We've created a fantasy class. In exchange, under the assumption of superiority, we've handed these people the keys to the bar and told them to lock up after we've gone to sleep.
We're asleep. The bar's still open.
Politicians are human, but we expect them to be superhuman. Do you see a disconnect here? If a politician betrays even the slightest humanity, we ridicule him or her.
I'm not talking about morons like Bachmann or Palin or Trump (who claims to be different from politicians, but I perceive that difference in the same way that malaria is different from a bad cold). Or even George W. Bush, who's reach exceeded his grasp and we all paid a heavy price for it.
I'm talking about how anytime anyone pokes his or her head above the foxhole, shots get fired, yet we expect them to leap up and take more ground, to lead us.
Take any Presidential candidate of the past twenty years, including the ones who won (absenting Bush). John Kerry by all rights could have won (and in many lights did win) the 2004 election: a decorated war veteran, long-serving Senator, a brilliant policy man, but brought down hard by a smear campaign that any American in his or her right mind would have laughed off as ridiculous if they had read it in a novel.
Clinton won, twice, but only because he had a core of support that anybody but Bush had to win, and Ross Perot was too scary to conceive of voting for (yet, tell me you didn't think some of what Perot espoused had some interest).
In all these elections, the issues favored Democrats: in 1992, we were in a mild recession and had twelve years of Reagan/Bush scandals. In 1996, Clinton was beseiged by know-nothing Gingrichites hellbent on destroying liberal America and jerking the country rightward. In 2004, Bush hadn't created a single job during his administration, had allowed 9/11 to take place and had the lowest approval rating of any President running for re-election, ever.
Look at what happens: candidates can't win on issues, because those issues get swamped in the muck of the campaign. Money is flung, and after the Citizens Uniteddecision, more money will be flung at candidates, smearing them personally and ignoring the issues in favor of scare tactical talking points.
All because a guy is human.
And we the people have allowed this to happen, because we eat up Clinton's affairs or Obama's birth certificate or Palin's pregnancies.
No. Worse. We allow a small but loud minority to dominate the discussion. We presume that, because they're so loud and so "grass-rootsy" that somehow they've earned their say.
Notice that there's a corollary, an unwelcome development about this: because issues stop mattering, politicians stop caring about issues. This creates a vacuum, into which other, very human desires, rush.
Power. Greed. Politics no longer becomes about who does the best job of governing but about who can grab hold of and control power the longest.
In 1964 and 1965, when the Civil Rights, Economic Opportunity , and Social Security Acts were passed, they were passed by a coalition of Republicans and Democrats, mostly liberals, who wanted to do good. They saw injustice across this land. They saw that 12% of the populace was suffering mercilessly at the hands of people who wanted nothing to do with them for no other reason than they were different. They worked together to change that.
Could that happen now? No. Not because there are no longer any mountains to climb and conquer, but because it's not about governance, it's about power.
And neither side is winning.