Jason OMahony - Irish political blogger, Irish politics, EU politics
 

Why do we hate politicians so much?

Posted by Jason O on Sep 28, 2011 in British Politics, European Union, Irish Politics, US Politics |

Even Jesus, the ultimate politician, had critics. Probably bitching that "I don't like fish" and "These loaves could be fresher".

Even Jesus, the ultimate politician, had critics. Probably bitching that "I don't like fish" and "These loaves could be fresher".

You know the form. Some sort of TV show featuring celebrities. Actors, singers, comedians, and then the odd “celebrity” politician like Edwina Currie. The politician nearly always gets booed. Even the word has become a butt of jokes, a constant put down, a cheap cabaret stand-up line. “I don’t lie much, but then, I’m not a politician!” Ba-boom! Why is that? Why do we hate politicians so much?

Most people, if you ask them this question, will roll their eyes at you. It’s like asking why does chocolate cake taste so chocolatey? It’s such an obvious question. They’re always lying, aren’t they? Are they? It’s true, most politicians do lie, certainly any ones who ever get near having to turn their promises into actual government policy. Some of those lies are pre-planned, like opposing cuts in spending or services that they have no idea how to prevent if they were in power. But most lies are lies of tone, knowingly getting elected on a feeling that is impossible to deliver upon: If you put this crowd out, and elect us, the pain will go away. Not only do they know that they’ll never be able to deliver on that feeling, but would they have been elected without it?

This is the thing. We hold politicians to impossible standards, having demanded that they make enormous promises to begin with. We don’t vote for the guy who tells us that we spend more than we have and so we are going to feel pain until we either pay more taxes or cut our expectations as to what the state will do for us. Instead we vote for the carefully constructed “Of course there must be cutbacks! But we must protect the vulnerable!” which translates as “See! I’m a serious candidate because I recognise we’re in the s**t, but I don’t want you to feel anxious that you or your family will lose out materially, because then you might not vote for me!”

Would we vote for a politician who told us that if we want to protect the vulnerable, which we claim we do, then everybody with an income over X is paying 20% more tax? We’d openly hate this politician, attacking and condemning him for not finding a pain-free solution. We’d elect the opponent who promised the same outcome without the pain, and then be disappointed in him when he can’t deliver. Whose fault is that?

Why do we hate politicians so much? Some because they are crooks and deliberate self-serving liars, but mostly because in them we see what we are, warts and all. They reflect back to us our hypocrisies and unwillingness to deal with the realities of our own lives. Compound that with a media age we live in, where emotion is a justifiable commodity and where requiring an individual to coldly justify in fact why they “feel” the way they do is regarded as “patronising”.

I met a woman a few months ago who hated the Progressive Democrats. She said she would never have voted for them. When I took her through the PD platform, she agreed with more of it than I had, and I’d been a candidate. Even then, she still said that she would never vote for them, but could not give me a reason other than she didn’t “like” them, for no reason she could fathom.

Politicians aren’t angels. They do lie to us, and over promise and over sell their bill of policy goods. But we want to be lied to, because if we didn’t, we’d buy the plain package in the brown paper, and we never do that.

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