Of all the dirty words that do not deserve the description, “politician” must rank near the top.
Almost every candidate for office who’s new to it, or even semi-new, will start their spiel by proclaiming, “I’m not a politician …” Even a lot of long-time, career-spanning pols do it.
With, of course, the assumption that people will then think more kindly about them. And may be right.
But shouldn’t be.
The comedian George Carlin, who knew something about “dirty words”, said in one routine, “Everybody complains about politicians. Well, where do people think these politicians come from? . . . They come from American parents and American families, American homes, American schools, American churches, American businesses and American universities, and they are elected by American citizens. . . It’s what our system produces: Garbage in, garbage out. If you have selfish, ignorant citizens, you’re going to get selfish, ignorant leaders.”
Politicians r us. Or should be.
Actually, to be called a politician ought to be a badge of civic honor. These, after all, are people willing to put themselves out there, to enter the arena. Wikipedia's definition will do: "Politicians are people who are politically active, especially in party politics." In other words, they are civic-minded. Some of them may have darker motivations, but most of them are in it to try to make their community or state or nation a little better.
Just as many people think of people in “the media” as simply high-paid Washington talking heads, ignoring the local reporter who covers the city planning and zoning commission, many people think of “politician” in a limited way: prominent members of Congress, the president, a governor, occasional others.
But one common definition runs like one at vocabulary.com: “A politician is a person who campaigns for or holds a position in government.” That’s a lot of people, from the local mosquito district commissioner up to, say, the (non-elected) secretary of the treasury. And how about many lobbyists? Much of what they do is as richly political as that of any elected official, even if they lack the title.
They’re not all rotten. In fact, most of them aren’t.
Okay, there are reasons politician is a reviled description. The word can be used to describe someone outside of government, but with the attached negative context, such as the online description, “a person who acts in a manipulative and devious way, typically to gain advancement within an organization.”
Wikipedia again: "In the popular image, politicians are thought of as clueless, selfish, incompetent and corrupt, taking money in exchange for goods or services, rather than working for the general public good. Politicians in many countries are regarded as the "most hated professionals". Many ex-politicians who could not bear the leadership in politics that causes reprisals for critical thought criticize those who remain politicians for lacking critical thought."
There are plenty of examples of lousy politicians, people who deserve the opprobrium.
But, as everywhere else, there are plenty who do not - many who work day in and out trying to get something useful accomplished, in a government system that ultimately reports back to - us.
They're also doing the more or less invisible hard work of keeping our system of government running. If politicians we're doing it, who would? Us? Are you kidding? We so often do such a terrific job even at the far more limited job of just choosing which politicians will represent us ... but that's a subject for another post.