Politics from the Porch
Someone recently asked me how I could stand being around politicians. I said, "What do you mean?”
"Well, being a reporter and all, you have to go to meetings and talk to politicians. How can you stand it?”
I had to explain that I really don’t go to many meetings, and that politicians aren’t really that bad. That appalled the person, since the journalist and the politician are traditionally at odds.
The discussion left me wondering, though. I started to remember a feeling that I used to have about politics—the feeling that all politicians are liars and cheats and ambitious frauds. It’s pretty much the picture most people seem to see regarding politicians.
Somewhere in the last couple years that feeling has left me. In fact, exposure to politics at the level that I have been at has in large part increased my appreciation for politics—and for good politicians.
While I have run into a few sour apples—like one political candidate telling me that Pleasant Township was a million dollars in the hole when the finances were fine, and a village meeting where council members blamed each other of alcoholism and belligerence—I can honestly say that those cases are the exception in my experience.
At the township and small city level, it’s really hard to muster up a journalistic grudge against politics. Informal meetings that allow residents to voice their say on issues are a very American tradition. When people claim that politicians never get anything done or don’t care, I think about the many local government meetings I have attended as a very lonely member of the audience.
As one local leader said to me recently, "People are too caught up in their lives to care about what’s going on. Most people never show up unless it’s some issue that is only affecting them. They don’t want to serve on zoning or commissions to help out. They just want to complain.”
While people are always going to complain about nearly every issue under the sun, and while politicians are always going to be under fire, I say they all ain’t so bad. I go further and say that politics on the small scale is the closest thing people have to the original American ideal—and Americans really ought to appreciate it more.
2011-10-30 Several years later my feelings have soured some. I still think that local politics is much more like the original American political schema; I don't, however, feel overly happy about the reality of politics. Local politics, however, can be down and dirty in ways that foster pessimism in people like me.