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May 8, 2009

setting a poor example

Many Americans believe that politicians are unprincipled and self-interested. Politicians, they assume, always try to maximize their chances of being reelected or promoted to higher office. That theory doesn't make too much sense psychologically. Politics is a hard job, and there are easier ways to become rich and secure. I think that politicians are often pretty substantive. Their goals may be opposed to mine, or they may be too parochial. (Coming out of local communities, they sometimes just want to get stuff built and funded in their home towns.) They definitely want credit for what they achieve--or even what they touch. But it's not fair to say they only want to be re-elected.

That's why it's unfortunate when a major politician acts blatantly opportunistically; it reduces respect for representative democracy to below what it deserves.

For instance, in explaining his shift to the Democratic Party, Senator Specter spoke briefly about "principle"; he claimed that his views were now more closely aligned with the Democrats than with the Republicans. But later in the same speech, he sounded like a professional athlete whose goal was to win and who had switched to a stronger team so that he'd have better odds. He said, "In the course of the last several months ... I have traveled the state and surveyed the sentiments of the Republican Party in Pennsylvania and public opinion polls, observed other public opinion polls and have found that the prospects for winning a Republican primary are bleak."

It seemed that nothing could be more nakedly self-interested; but then came the Senator's interview with The New York Times Magazine:

The evocation of "justice" made the Senator sound briefly principled, but he soon took it back, saying, “In the swirl of moving from one caucus to another, I have to get used to my new teammates. ... I’m ordinarily pretty correct in what I say. I’ve made a career of being precise. I conclusively misspoke.”

I suppose one could give Specter credit for candor, but I think his motives are worse than average, and these glimpses into his soul hardly do him credit.

May 8, 2009 10:49 AM | category: none


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