Sunday, October 31, 2010

Career Politicians

I am a career politician.

I have only run for government office twice and only been elected once. The first-time I lost to my mother in a crowded field of candidates for a small number of seats on a representative Town Meeting. The second time I ran unopposed. Although I served for less than five years as a public housing commissioner, I still think of myself as a career politician. I am, as one of my professors used to say, the holder of the highest political office in the United States. I am a citizen. As a citizen I try to become engaged in the politics of the nation and in the more local politics of state and town. I vote; I write to elected officials;  I served once as an honorary co-chair of a friend's campaign; and this year I'm doing a very small of volunteer work for a political party. 

I see politics as the way we make decisions for our communities. We elect people to represent us and we engage those representatives in a continuing conversation about public policy, especially the issues that matter the most to us. If we aren't pleased with the decisions that our representatives do, we remember that they work for us, and not the other way around, and we fire them, voting them out of office.

Yes, I am a career politician.

I didn't begin the thought process that led to this post with any thoughts about my own political life, but with some thoughts about the term career politician. Why is it, I wondered, that career politician has become a slur, while career physician or teacher or banker haven't? Why don't we see elected office as a calling that might be a person's life work? Clearly there have been corrupt politicians, but corruption can be found in the ranks of every profession. Why is it that a calling that is so important to our common life is not thought of highly? Many of those who held elected office could be much better paid doing something else, and yet they choose public service. And for that choice they are frequently treated as little better than common criminals, and because of that kind of treatment there are many, I would guess, who choose to avoid public service, even though they have much to offer.

Career politician should be an honorable title and, because so many of us don't see it that way, our common life is much the poorer.

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