In defense of politicians

| Forum Editor
(Kate Oberg | Student Life)

(Kate Oberg | Student Life)

Whenever the topic of my future comes up at a family gathering and I admit that I want to pursue a career in politics, inevitably one of my relatives will shake their head and tell me, their voice deep with concern, that politics is a nasty business that I would be better off avoiding.

Yet with all due respect to my beloved family and to Forum Editor Alissa Rotblatt, who included the same advice in her column this Monday, I think that politicians have gotten an unfairly bad reputation. True, there are many politicians who live up to their nefarious image and give the entire business a bad name, but I do not believe that we should give up on politics entirely.

David Brooks of The New York Times put it well this week when he wrote in a Times blog post, “Government should sometimes be shrouded for the same reason middle-aged people should wear clothes.” Politics is full of difficult compromises, brutal partisan attacks and general unpleasantness. It always has been. (Trust me, you should check out the campaign between John Adams and Thomas Jefferson. It wasn’t pretty.)

But I think it is worth our time anyways. Yes, it is possible to achieve social change through other means. The truth is, however, that the way we run our government is absolutely crucial to the condition of our society. You cannot really change society without at least being conscious of politics, and I strongly believe that one of the best ways of going about such change is to work within the political realm.

I am not asking each of you to run for office. What I am asking is that you do not dismiss the sometimes-unsavory business of politics without giving it a fair chance. If you do keep an open mind, if you can get beyond the banal talking heads on the 24-hour news networks and the scandals and the partisan drama and all the other theatrics, I think you might find some genuinely inspiring stories.

You do not need to dig up Profiles in Courage to find the good in politics. You can see it in the thousands of people who volunteered long hours in support of President Obama’s campaign because they wanted to make a difference for our country. You can see it in the underdog campaigns of politicians who probably won’t win but are still spending countless hours on the stump due to the strength of their convictions. You can even see it in the case of Ted Olson, because even though Rotblatt described him earlier this week as the antithesis of a politician thanks to his dramatic break with the Republican Party line, he has still spent most of his career engaged in politics.

Finally, as long as idealistic, compassionate young people who truly believe in the integrity of their causes continue to shun politics, all that will be left will be the corrupt clowns whom we all despise. Our country needs better than that.

Eve is a junior in Arts and Sciences. She can be reached via email at elsambor@wustl.edu.