In that I continue to be asked the “why” and the am I “sure” questions about running for office, and in that the choice from among political candidates is important to the community of Orchard Park, I thought that I would ease into the weekly My Two Cents posts on issues important to Orchard Park with an intentionally simple musing upon being a politician.
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It has been a matter of only a few months since I first became actively involved in politics. And although I am honored and humbled to have received the endorsements of the Republican, Democratic, Conservative and Independence parties for a seat on our Town Board, I am also just ‘a wee bit’ nervous. I can’t help but be reminded of the admonishment made some 2500 years ago:
No man undertakes a trade he has not learned, even the meanest; yet everyone thinks himself sufficiently qualified for the hardest of all trades – government. (Socrates)
What is expected of a politician? In answering that question I will construct for myself what I believe to represent the ideal attributes for a politician. Please keep in mind that in my effort to be brief I may fail to mention other qualities that you would have liked to see included.
To begin with, I would prefer that she possess the kind of education and/or experience that is necessary for managing the work of the people, i.e., governing. Given the tough economic times we have been experiencing, it is to be expected that for some politicians having a business-related education and/or experience would be presented as the sine qua non, that is, an indispensable ideal and the chief credential for holding office. But whereas those who run a business and those running a government employ many of the same principles and practices that make for good operations and outcomes, they often differ significantly as to their respective underlying motives as well as the manner of their implementation and application. It follows that although a politician may have knowledge of and experience in the application of operational principles and practices within a successful for-profit business, it does not guarantee that she will be equally capable and successful in applying them within a not-for-profit government which is elected to serve the people.
On a philosophical level, his fundamental orientation would be that of ensuring a government that is “of the people, by the people, (and especially) for the people.” He would not, accordingly, be parochial, that is, close-minded or indifferent to the wishes and will of those he has been elected to represent and serve. Quite to the contrary, he would be at pains to be inclusive of all and community-oriented rather than being reliant chiefly upon his own opinion and will or being excessively focused upon an individualism which, if unchecked, would result in a privileged few. That being said, he would equally embrace as the foremost role and measurement of good government that of protecting the unalienable rights of each individual to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
On a personal level, she would manifest an authentic and consistent set of values, be honest and trustworthy, possess foresight, and be able to articulate an ennobling vision. She would find ways to connect with, listen to and be considerate of the needs, wants and values of the community and residents she has been elected by. In her service to others she would be driven to produce results, evidencing a high level of commitment, enthusiasm, hopefulness and perseverance. Empowering others, working collaboratively, and being ready to make compromises and even personal sacrifices, she would inspire others to do likewise. And by intentionally disclosing and taking responsibility for mistakes, failures and/or poor results instead of rationalizing them away or blaming others, and by often attributing successes to other factors and persons than herself, she would demonstrate an authentic humility.
So there it stands, my icon of the ideal politician. But is it realistic to expect all of this in a politician? Before you answer “no,” consider each of these qualities by themselves. For example, would not business know-how, at least potentially, present a significant advantage for a community? Should not a politician be inclusive, evidencing a people- and community-first orientation, as well as a passion to protect our unalienable personal rights? Are there any of the above, more personal virtues that we might consider undesirable or optional?
Perhaps now you can appreciate why I am somewhat apprehensive at the thought of having become a politician. So why did I throw my hat into the ring? To begin with, although it may be somewhat wistful of me, I espouse the vision of our country’s founders, namely, that of a democracy in which civic-minded citizens step or are called forward and accept the responsibility to serve the interests of the people. It was a vision much different than the reality we encounter today, that of a professional climbing the political career ladder. I have had the good fortune, secondly, of having a number of role models in my life who have taught me what it means to serve others – above all my wife, my parents, and my Faith. Finally, I believe that I have some knowledge, skills, ideas and experience that will be useful and helpful in government. And so in spite of my fear of inadequacy in the presence of the political icon I have constructed, and in the sure knowledge that I will at times unintentionally falter in knowledge, in judgment, and in my efforts, I am sure that I will do my best to serve our community.