Cambrian: Slice of Life

Thanking politicians?!

In the wake of the recent attempted assassination and critical wounding Jan. 22 of three-term U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, the killing of Arizona’s chief federal Judge John Roll, 9-year-old Christina Green and three others, and the injuring of at least 14 others, it seems appropriate to revisit and revise my column from Nov. 27, 2003.

Most of us are rightfully grateful to those who love us, like us, save our lives or our money, entertain us, keep us safe and healthy or fix our plumbing when it overflows at midnight.

When we’re spreading the gratitude around, it may seem to be a stretch to include politicians. That’s understandable, I guess. It’s tough warming up to people who must cut our services and benefits while searching for new ways to wheedle more money out of each wallet.

The only people apt to be overtly thankful for politicians are those indebted to or courting the commissioners, supervisors, senators, congresspeople, governors and such.

But would you be willing to put up with all the dreck — not to mention outright threats and dangers — that go along with the titles? Me neither.

Most political jobs fall into the “It’s a tough job, but somebody’s got to do it” category. Without good, decent people willing to represent you and me, our system of government could collapse.

“Of, for and by the people” means some of us have to be willing to step up and sign up, to be accessible to the people they serve and able to relate to them.

As a local wag said once about being a services-district director, “You have to be smart enough to do the job and dumb enough to take it.”

I, for one, am grateful they’re willing to do it.

Sure, there are perks to elected offices and appointed jobs. Some politicos are treated to exotic meals, elite functions, junkets and special tours of exclusive places.

Some upper-tier political jobs pay pretty well, but to get them, you have live in Sacramento, Washington D.C., or other charming garden spots. City council-folks and county supervisors get nice salaries, but most other government leaders on a local level are paid a pittance or nothing.

And the word “power” comes to mind.

But for members of smaller or more obscure commissions and councils, such influence is ephemeral at best, imagined or nonexistent for most.

And, as a reward, most politicians spend a lot of their “personal time” studying stultifyingly dull agendas and staff reports, going to extra-curricular evening and weekend meetings or functions on the creamed-chicken-and-peas circuit, listening to people kvetch or answering phone calls at midnight from irate constituents who want them to fix something — now.

There are lots of long days, thankless tasks and being nice to people who aren’t.

The process of getting a job you probably won’t get to keep can be costly, egregious and occasionally painful. Even deadly.

So, one wonders why those good, honest folks are willing to put aside their lives and run for office at all, let alone battle for the right to win those elections or get those appointments.

In these days of political vitriol, the fragile concept of “us” meaning everybody often disappears in finger-pointing and name calling, when merely running for a post means putting yourself through emotional hell, when winning political office puts politicians’ lives on the line.

For hard-working politicians who play by the rules (which covers a lot of them, I have to believe), being in office must be a little like being in the military. You sign on for two or four years to work with or for people who often don’t like you much and some of whom may be inclined to shoot at you.

When the latter happens for real, we’re shocked, appalled, aghast and so, so sad. We want to know how to make all the hatred go away.

I think it’s time to stop and think before we talk or write. Being passionate about a party, a candidate or an issue should mean inspiring others. Passion doesn’t give us the right to inflame and incite.

And in the meantime, this is a deeply sincere, heartfelt thank you to those who serve, who know the risks and do it anyway.

The original column ran first in The Cambrian on Nov. 27, 2003.