Political leaders – is that a contradiction in terms?

Today it is quite rare for us to refer to our political leaders as statesmen. Quite what a person needs to do to become a states person is nebulous. Someone who has been around for a while might be an elder statesman, but that’s more about longevity rather than statecraft. Certainly, death can catapult a politician into states person status. The late John McCain was frequently referred to as a hero, but not until the end of his life was he granted the epithet states person.

On the whole political leaders as a genre don’t get much respect. It might be a reflection of our times, but it also might be states-people are thin on the ground. Esteem for the people who go to Washington is not forthcoming from the general public and not from each other. Entrenched in the political process is a period of mudslinging where anything goes. This is only the nomination process. It is any wonder we have a low opinion of them afterward.

In 1958 77% of the people said that they trusted the government all or most of the time. Now that number is less than 20%. Only 1 person in 5 trusts the government.

The popularity of political shows such as House of Cards enthralls and disgusts us at the same time. But they are eminently credible. We have no trouble believing that a political leader would behave badly. Because often this is art imitating life.

Why become a political leader?

When asked why they entered public life, most politicians would say they want to help people. This may not mean all people, but it is a nice general answer to a question and it sounds right. I wanted to make a lot of money would not work.

What we look for in our politicians

When we vote for a candidate – assuming all other things are equal – t we look for is honesty. We want a politician who tells the truth. Except we all agree that politicians don’t.

We want integrity. Put simply, we want them to do what they said they were going to do. We also want them to show a little compassion, which is not best demonstrated by removing the health care blanket, or stopping access to food and social services for the poor.

There’s already a discrepancy here in our own requirements. We would like them to line up and yet, to be a politician is to walk a very thin line. There comes a point where politicking takes over. There are deals to be made and the suggestion everyone has a price, the only question is, how high is the price?

Do we get the leaders we deserve?

In theory, we are supposed to get what we vote for. Except as we increasingly find out, we don’t. Disenfranchisement, demanding identification when we turn up to vote and adjusting the boundaries all combine to skew elections. Are we heading for a shake-up of the system?