Dan has long been interested in politics, particularly in the field of ethics, and has served his community in the past.
Is an Honest Politician an Oxymoron?
The American politician. Leaders of the free world. Servant and employee of the American people. Hard working and much maligned.
The American politician. Liar extraordinaire. Scoundrel without a shred of personal integrity. Unwilling to follow the laws they themselves create.
Which one best describes the American Politician? Or do they both? If the first is true, we would seem to be in good shape, politically. If the second, we have a major problem that must be resolved.
Let's take a good hard look at our elected politicians as a group with an eye as to what might be wrong and how to put right what, if anything, we find wrong with the system.
Politicians as Employees
In a very real sense, the politicians we elect to represent us are our employees, and indeed they have a difficult job to perform. Their job has many facets, all of which must be considered. First and foremost a politician must be able and willing to govern the country, state, city or other political entity for which they were elected according to the will of the people. Secondly (secondly!) they must represent the particular group which elected them. They must work with other politicians of widely different concepts of what is best. They must do this within the confines of current laws.
A good employee, one with integrity and honesty, will perform their task to the best of their ability. Their own desires and needs will be put aside when on the job. A good employee will, if unsure how to proceed, ask for help or advice. Are our politicians good employees? Consider:
In the 2001 general election the people of Idaho voted to put term limits into effect in their state legislature with the limits to go into effect in 2004. The legislature went home for the holidays, came back to work and wasted no time (less than 30 days) in repealing the new law by a vote of 26-8 in the Senate and 50-20 in the house. The people spoke in a very clear and unambiguous voice as to what they wanted and required. Their legislature would not enact the desired law so the people did so themselves. It took real integrity and honesty for that same legislature to repeal the wishes of their employers. Not!
Article VI section 4 of the US Constitution requires that the government protect every state from invasion. Whether you, the reader, agree with current immigration policy or not, it is plain that the millions of illegal aliens pouring over our (primarily southern) border constitutes an invasion. The constitution does not require that the invasion be armed, dangerous, violent, or any thing else; just that there not be an invasion. Our leaders pay lip service to the problem, but make absolutely no serious effort to stop it. They are not doing their job, presumably because they may lose ethnic votes, or business votes, or some other vote.
Our employees do not have the integrity or honesty to do the primary job they are paid for, nor even the secondary task (representing local constituents). They are far more interested in protecting their own job. They will perform their proper task only when it coincides with keeping their income and perks.
Politicians and Lying
Q: How do you tell when a politician is lying? A: When their mouth is open. This tired old joke is all too true today.
Does anyone out there remember Monica Lewinsky and "I did not have sex with that woman!" Does anyone alive really believe that? Do the rest of us get to make our definitions for common words? The holder of the most prestigious office in the world, desperate to maintain a facade of morality, gave up his own integrity in the bold-faced lie.
Our current president (Obama, when this was written) made many promises (as politicians are known to do) but some of the first words from his mouth after the election were that we would have to give him more than one election to complete them. A more subtle lie (one by omission), but still a plain lie.
State representative Phil Hart, Idaho, faces over $600,000 in liens from the IRS, and another $53,000 from Idaho income taxes and penalties. Mr. Hart stopped paying taxes because they are unconstitutional. Right! There have only been about a bazillion similar lawsuits over the years - all shot down. Rep. Hart has also admitting logging state land for lumber to build his house; he claims he didn't know it was illegal. He probably has a bridge he would like to sell you, too, if you believe either story.
Politicians will spin it this way and spin it that way in an effort to convince voters that what they hear is what they want, but in the end it all boils down to the same thing. Say whatever they have to say in order to obtain votes. Honesty does not seem to pay in the political field.
Bread and Circuses
The American people have discovered, as perhaps all democracies will, that they can vote themselves bread and circuses at the expense of someone else. If you are not familiar with that term, it means both necessities and luxuries. In political terms it might be called earmarks.
Remember the "Bridge to nowhere?" A $398 million earmark to provide a bridge from Ketchican, Alaska to Gravina Island (population 50) so that the population would not have to wait a few minutes for the ferry servicing the island.
Earmarks are a way for politicians to get "free" money for their constituents, thus buying votes for themselves, and have become monotonous in their epidemic usage. They buy votes, but at a huge cost for the country as a whole. An honest politician knows better (the money simply comes from somewhere else, hurting someone else), but our politicians don't care; they can buy votes with them!
Political Parties and Honesty
Our country is basically a two party system; it is nearly impossible to get elected as anything but a Democrat or Republican.
The result is that our politicians must follow the guide lines of their party. Step out of line too many times and they will not be re-elected. The party, not the people electing them, dictates that votes of our politicians.
This does not promote honesty and integrity from our politicians. As always, their jobs are more important than running our country or following our wishes and those jobs are always on the line if they don't follow party platforms.
It would seem that the second description, at the beginning of this article, is more descriptive of our vaunted leaders. The question is what can we do about it?
- First of all, and most important, is to keep our own integrity and honesty. If we give our word, keep it! If we say something, keep it truthful and don't try to spin it. Don't demand that someone else provide what we want; earn it ourselves! Only if we keep our own personal integrity can we demand the same from our "servants".
- Term limits. It seems that the longer a person is in the political field the worse it gets. Time equals power here, and power degrades. With power, lies and other dishonest acts are forgotten and ignored. Limit the time available to our employees lest they overcome us.
- Line item veto. If the politicians insist on spending your money to benefit a few others while leaving you in the cold, perhaps a president or governor will have the integrity to put a stop to it. Understanding that the veto infringes on the powers of congress, our politicians have shown themselves unwilling to do their job honestly and need an override.
- Public funds for re-election costs. While abhorrent to many people, the use of public funding, and only public funding would stop the buying of votes. It is worth consideration in one form or another. Coupled with this might be serious penalties for ethics violations such as taking gifts from companies or individuals in return for voting in such a way as to help the donor. Companies have strict laws, with severe penalties attached, concerning this; why not our politicians? A wrist slap or public censure just isn't enough.
- Listen to your politician. If he/she lies, don't put your vote there. If they lie once they will lie again and again, to the point that you won't know what they stand for. Demand unspun truth and honesty from your representative.
- A website from each politician, updated daily or weekly, with a short description of how they voted on each issue and why thay chose that vote might be invaluable. Easily accessible, one could keep frequent check on their representative and follow their actions instead of their words.
- Vote the person, not the party. If a Libertarian or an independent most closely follows what you believe to be best, vote that way! Ignore party affiliation and vote the person.
- Although different people have different moral concepts and it is not reasonable to demand that your representative have the identical moral structure you do, you can demand personal integrity from them. If they ignore laws they don't like, if they won't keep their word, if they are more interested in buying votes than running the country then don't listen to them and don't hire them! You wouldn't hire a worker for your business that pulled those stunts would you? Why hire a politician that does it?
- The bottom line is that only the people can force honesty and integrity from our politicians. Make yourself part of the solution, not part of the problem. Demand an honest politician to represent you; never elect one that has proven dishonest or lacking in personal integrity.
- It can be a little difficult to see through the lies and spin, the refusal to actually answer a question, and the enormous media influence on what we hear, but using our critical and analytical thinking skills we can work through this and find whether our politicians are showing honesty and integrity. This cannot be emphasized enough - the bottom line is that it is the peoples job to run the country. Because the task of running the country is so large, we accomplish this by delegating the authority and responsibility to the politicians, but we are still ultimately responsible and that means we must be informed on both the politician and the issues. Lets make an effort to do our job of properly hiring and supervising our employees - the politicians.
© 2010 Dan Harmon
Dan Harmon (author) from Boise, Idaho on January 18, 2014:
Well put. A politicians job isn't to make laws they would like to see; it is to run the country to the best of their ability and, within that objective, to provide a country and laws their constituents want to see.
Sanctuary on January 18, 2014:
If you actually do your job and Represent the people, then it should not matter what your views are if this Republic has any real Democracy in it. Our leaders quit following this policy a long time ago. You could ask me what my views are and if I was a Politician doing my job, I would tell you my views do not matter.
Dan Harmon (author) from Boise, Idaho on January 13, 2014:
One of the things that bother me the most is the disturbing trend towards socialism and the entitlement philosophy. Our legislators feed off of that philosophy and use our money to buy them votes by providing entitlements; the end result will be a collapse of our living standard. Because, at the bottom of it all, the politician isn't interested in doing what the country needs; they are interested in furthering their own goals and pocketbook.
Sanctuary on January 13, 2014:
You our on the money and I have explored the same ideas. Sadly a two party system of already chosen candidates, usually wealthy people with agendas is are greatest problem. A Democracy instead of a Republic is not a bad idea either. Worst of all these political parties do not need the peoples money to be elected any more and even your State elected officials are bought out of State. Until people realize that no Democrat or Republican is ever going to Represent your interest, we are never going to change anything. Both parties support globalization, a global monetary scheme that keeps a valueless monetary system in power and keeps ordinary people in voluntary slavery to pay their debts. Some are opposed to socialism but that's what you get when Capitalism fails. All that money owed was paid to someone and they created this mess and left it to the tax payers. We would have failed every course, times a minus F multiplied by a hundred times to get the same grade as are Politicians and they have been doing this for decades. No one could fail as bad as them, unless it was on purpose. The richest nation on Earth and most superior in technology can not balance a check book or predict its economic future? Always concerned by the latest scam or con and yet we are paying for the greatest one all time.
Oscar Jones from Monroeville, Alabama on December 18, 2013:
America is on a "turntide" of power and control. My buddies say, oh no, it can't be done without congress approval! My response is, "yes they are in it too." if by agreement, or by fear of NOT being in agreement. And honestly, sometimes the truth DOES catch up, but not always before the damage is done, ( NSA) . Why do we suddenly have a healthcare system that is just perhaps hiding a wide scale socialist makeover in the good ol' (new) USA. racism reversed, and disparity magically expelled by Government decree.. good hub and up!
Despararee of Prescott, Arizona on July 31, 2013:
Hello everyone. Thank you Rodric29 for your condolences for my lost cat. Her name was "Beep". Nine months ago I got two Persian cats, named Swiss Miss and Gwyllt Nimue. (Her name means Wild Huntress in Welsh.) They are beautiful and wonderful and have helped me to miss Beep less.
Thank you also for liking my comments and saying I have a complex mind. No one has ever said that to me before. To be honest, when it comes to who, if anyone, is running this planet, I don't know what I believe either. But if we remember that quote, "all power tends to corrupt, absolute power to corrupt absolutely", it's hard not to believe that there are people trying to arrange politics/economics to benefit themselves. In fact, we KNOW these people exist. Whether they function at some fantastically exalted level is the question.
In my last post, I took back what I'd said about Jimmy Carter, because I have no verifiable knowledge about him. In this post, I think I have to take back what I said about global warming. Many scientists say it is occurring. Truly, I don't know whether they are right or not.
Once I thought I'd seen an honest politician. His name was Andre Marou, from Alaska, running for President for the Libertarian Party. The reason I thought he was honest was that he didn't answer questions by slinging mud on the other candidates. His answers were very direct and businesslike. I have to admit that doesn't prove he was honest, per se, but it was a refreshing change. Obviously, he didn't win. I think those were the Clinton years, but I don't remember exactly.
Keep posting. Intelligent people exchanging ideas on the Internet may be our only hope for positive change.
Dan Harmon (author) from Boise, Idaho on December 01, 2012:
@djdaniel; very, very few, I'm afraid. At least I've never listened to one I would consider to be honest past maybe the small town level. I was once elected to that board of directors of a large private subdivision and even there at least half the board was far more concerned with their own desires than the needs of the community and would lie through their teeth to get what they wanted.
Daniel from St Louis on December 01, 2012:
Theres honest politicians?lol
Rodric Anthony from Peoria, Arizona on November 27, 2012:
Wilderness, you evoked some emotions in me that I did not know that I had as I read your article. I don't know if I disagree with you or agree because you are such a complex political mind to me. I like what I read though.
I am sorry about your cat. I know how hard it is to lose a loved one. I lost a love one two years ago and it still stings--grief is grief not matter what it is over. It still hurts.
I really like the website idea and term limits. We have enough public administrators to govern. We do not need life time representatives that make no effort to please the public.
Despararee on February 19, 2012:
If anyone is still reading this hub, and I hope they are, I would like to retract the following: "Jimmy Carter was an honest man." I have no idea whether or not that's true; it probaby isn't. I was repeating what I'd heard or read. Voting makes a difference: I now believe it does not make ANY difference for whom we vote. The system is completely rigged against us. The rulers of this world don't give a damn about "the people". It's possible they can't. Yes, I've been reading conspiracy theorists who believe there is a race of reptiles yanking the chains of the human race. Maybe they're crazy. Maybe I'm crazy, but what else can explain the absolutely INSANE things that happen on this planet? Since I last wrote on this site, I've read a book by Paul Babiak and Robert Hare called "Snakes in Suits". It concerns psychopaths and how they are designed to be most successful in business, politics and the media. They are people for whom lying is like breathing. I've also read Jim Marrs, David McGowan and David Icke. Icke is especially condemned because he is the major proponent of the theory that there is a race of reptile-like beings who have mixed their bloodlines with those of humans, and who, along with those human/reptile hybrids, rule this planet for profit and amusement. It sounds utterly incredible, but so do most of the beliefs of the human race. "What if?" has always been an important consideration for me.
I'm sorry if I'm freaking anyone out. I lost my cat, my only friend and companion, right before Thanksgiving, and my view of the world is completely bleak. Don't let your positive thoughts be contaminated ....
P.S. Except for belief in global warming. It's an utter LIE. (I looked up temperature data for the last hundred years. No warming!)
Dan Harmon (author) from Boise, Idaho on December 18, 2011:
@geordmc: If I had any idea how to change voter apathy I would certainly write a hub on it! I don't, though. You are absolutely correct, people vote a party line, or vote for a color of skin or whatever, with no idea of what they are actually doing. It is pathetic.
@Desparee: To some degree (too much) you are correct. The rich are taking over the country and illegal aliens flooding our shores is one result. The rich and business owners want them here. Short-sighted? Of course - those illegals can't buy what the rich are selling on what they are paid - but then the rich are at least as ignorant and uncaring as the rest of us.
On the other hand, we still have numbers of our side; if we can ever convince the average Joe in the street to consider people and issues instead of listening and believing the lies of our politicians the country COULD be cleaned up.
Despararee on December 16, 2011:
Be afraid, be very afraid. I always thought the rich and powerful couldn't go too far, because ultimately they need us to work for them. I found out that isn't true. A while back I read an article by an economist (I wish I could remember his name) who pointed out that with all our jobs overseas, and a constant influx of illegals, they've got it covered without us. People here illegally can be made to do any work for any pay and they won't/can't complain. This economist pointed out that if we Americans want jobs, we will have to move to another country, ultimately leaving this country for the rich and powerful, waited on and worked for by a severely depressed people. I believe that's why there is little or no effort to stop illegal immigration, and definite plans to drive the middle class into extinction. That was the message of that economist. He didn't have any advice for voters to fix this situation. How can we fix it when the only candidates we are offered are all cast from the same mold? I was a Libertarian for decades; I'm not anymore. I think I wasted my votes, because "outsiders" are never going to get anywhere. But where to turn? Obama seems to have failed; the Repub candidates are appalling. Maybe the Internet is are only hope, because we can come together here. I hope so. Thanks for listening to this long, long lament.
geordmc from Beliot, Wisconsin on December 16, 2011:
How to change voter attitude? This in itself would be a great hub. The main problem is that most voters subscribe to either Republican or Democrat party lines without the intelligence to see through all the BS being slung about. Not many can look to a moderate voice on either. It's us or them philosophy at it's worst.
Dan Harmon (author) from Boise, Idaho on December 16, 2011:
In many ways I believe you are absolutely correct. D.C. is a cesspool of thieves and liars and needs to be cleaned out.
The problem is the voters. We vote as to has the least mud thrown on them, who is the right color or religion or the best looking. We listen to the garbage they spew during campaigning and believe it, then ignore what is done while in office and vote them back in again!
The only real answer is a change in voter attitude; until we all hold our politicians accountable for their actions nothing will change.
And yes, I'm becoming very afraid for our country. Our "leaders" are willing to lead only to their own pocketbooks and it is hurting our country so badly.
Despararee on December 15, 2011:
I guess I'll come right out and say I think Washington D.C. is a sesspool. If an honest person is elected he/she can't function because the corruptors are in charge. I think that's what people have said about Jimmy Carter: that he was an iffectual president because he is an honest man. The only way to deal with this situation, I think, is to FIRE EVERYBODY at once, and start fresh. So maybe it will take a long time to get up to speed, but the politicians would by god have the fear of the people that they should have. It should be the way it is with jobs in the private sector: Do your job and do it well or get out, because there are plenty of other people who can and will. We haven't got anything close to that now, but we'd better get it; America is not immune to obsoletion. I guess I get a little ranty ravey, but I am truly afraid for our country. Thanks for listening.
Dan Harmon (author) from Boise, Idaho on December 14, 2011:
You are absolutely right - although American has a tremendous inertia and lots of people, it is not immune to revolution. No country is.
I don't really understand what has happened to the quality of our leaders. Were they always scoundrels and thieves, or have we allowed it to creep up on us because we don't pay attention or because the typical man in the street isn't much better? I don't believe that.
Whatever has happened, it is apparent that we need a massive housecleaning at the top levels of our political structure. That top is rotten to the core and if we, the people, don't take steps that festering sore will grow until it destroys the country. We must take back our country from those that will and do use their positions of leadership for nothing but personal gain.
Despararee on December 14, 2011:
I wonder whether any of our elected leaders and the rich who use them have ever heard of the French and Russian revolutions. I suppose they think "it could never happen in America". Probably the French and Russian rich and famous thought that it couldn't happen in their countries. Not that a major revolution would help ANYONE, but people do get fed up. I'm not fed up. I'm AFRAID. Many, many civilizations have come and gone. America is not safe unless we get people with integrity and honesty to manage this country. We might have to start from scratch. If you had a filthy pond you wouldn't try to clean it by just pouring in more and more clean water. You would DRAIN it first, then put in the clean water. Get it?
Dan Harmon (author) from Boise, Idaho on November 10, 2011:
I agree with term limits. Many will argue that it will cause great damage, but for the most part they seem to be the same politicians profiting from not having a lifetime career.
If the people ever had access to what goes on behind closed doors on capital hill, cutting deals and buying votes, no one there would ever be re-elected. Yes, we need it badly.
geordmc from Beliot, Wisconsin on November 10, 2011:
We, as a united front need to force the issue of term limits is agreed. How ever isn't there supposed to be a civilian oversight committee that is supposed to tell the public what is going on? If not, we need to get a group that has access to all the goings on in both the house and senate. WE THE PEOPLE need to take back our power over all the Elected "officials" that are now ruining our country.
Dan Harmon (author) from Boise, Idaho on November 09, 2011:
Thank you. Yes, our politicians have forgotten why they are there (to serve the people) and instead view it as a chance to grab whatever they can. Money, power, whatever. We really do need to remind them what we hired them for.
mquee from Columbia, SC on November 09, 2011:
This hub makes so many valid points, no matter what one's political views may be. Politicians have forgotten that they serve the people and often feel that they are entitled to live off the American worker for a lifetime. The key point that you made to me simply is, "they are not doing their job." Thank you for a well articulated article on a vitally important matter.
Dan Harmon (author) from Boise, Idaho on August 19, 2011:
You make good points on the time and experience necessary to accomplish much of anything in congress.
I have serious doubts, though, that our politicians become more honest and vote their real feelings as time goes on, however. It seems that the longer one is in office the more they become a tool of special interests and the more power they have and wield to promote votes to retain their office.
Yes, it can take months or years to figure out just how to work the system, but a good deal of that time is necessary simply to overcome the power base occupied by long term incumbents and get a newbies voice heard. Were that not so and all the representatives operated with nearly the same power it would not be nearly so difficult to accomplish things.
Were it not so difficult for a new congressman to even be heard or taken seriously I would say that nearly any change that takes years to convince fellow lawmakers of is most probably a bad one. If it takes that long it is because favors must be built up to garner congressional votes and the system "worked" to produce the results desired, and this is not what making laws should be about.
I absolutely agree with you that the system needs changed to one of more principled behavior and transparency, but still believe that it is primarily the long term incumbents that prevent such changes. As time goes on, they become more and more used to working under the table and behind closed doors, cutting deals and swapping votes to get their programs approved and this simply is not the way to get good government.
You say that academic studies show little or negative results from term limits, but what were those studies of? Congress has never had real term limits so what did they study? I would really have to question the veracity and honesty of any academician that produced a "study" consisting of nothing more than theories of what might happen if term limits were introduced with nothing to back those theories.
E. on August 14, 2011:
Lots of good points here. But, most political scientists feel term limits would not accomplish these purposes. Politicians tend to vote more according to their values the longer they are in office. It takes legislatures months to figure out the system and understand what is going on in their committees etc, before they are effective at all. Term limits (and more contested elections) would put more power into the hands of long term staffers and lobby groups that pour more money into hot elections. And, sometimes, it takes legislatures several election cycles to push through the things they really want to do and that they were elected for in the first place.
In the end, academic studies show that term limits do very little, nothing, or have the opposite effect as their intentions when it comes to curbing corruption.
Changing congressional procedures and rules would be simpler, fairer, and more effective. It is hard (not impossible) to have integrity, when you are in a system of institutionalized non-integrity. Change the rules to incentivize transparent and principled behavior.
Dan Harmon (author) from Boise, Idaho on July 09, 2011:
Term limits could help or they could hurt as the politicians jump faster onto the bandwagon filling their own pockets
We'll never know until we can vote in constitutional amendments (at both state and federal levels) limiting the number of terms that can be served. Through constitutions because simple laws are simply changed as happened in Idaho.
email@example.com from upstate, NY on July 09, 2011:
Brillant analysis! That's right our elected servant must be servants not all knowing masters, this is a key issue. Also term limits may help our representatives more responsive to the people because politics won't become a career.
Dan Harmon (author) from Boise, Idaho on February 27, 2011:
Too true. I can't remember the last time I heard a politician say anything during the re-election process except the party platform.
Their job is far too important to them to jeopardize it by saying what they themselves think or feel.
Mimi721wis on February 27, 2011:
That would be great if people would vote the person instead of the party. I get really frustrated when I hear a politician not saying how he/she really feel because they are so called playing to their base. It appears their jobs focus consist on getting reelected instead of what's good for us citizens.
Dan Harmon (author) from Boise, Idaho on February 06, 2011:
I believe that a good part of the reason is that a very few people define party lines - how the party will vote. If our politicians do not follow that party line pretty closely they will not retain their job. They will not get re-elected as the party will not support them.
AskAshlie3433 from WEST VIRGINIA on February 06, 2011:
They don't make them like they use to. Great hub. I still wonder why our government can't get together on anything. This is America. It is a crying shame.
Dan Harmon (author) from Boise, Idaho on January 04, 2011:
You are mistaken; very few politicians do anything but complain it wasn't their fault or they didn't do it. The Idaho politicians that negated the will of the people are still there. The politician that didn't pay his taxes is still there, as is the one that stole public property. It would be very uncommon for a politician to suffer any consequences for their misdeeds.
You are right about using the words in the same sentence, however. I think we are all crying for help in finding honest politicians. I also think it won't happen because too many of us don't really want them as long as their actions benefit us at someone else's cost. Anyone that votes for a politician because he/she brought federal money to their state is as dishonest as the politician is.
guymclaren from Pretoria, South Africa on January 04, 2011:
At least your politicians resign if caught in the cookie jar. In South Africa they get transferred to a different department or province to get into another.
Politics from the latin poli:many tics:small blood sucking insects. Using the word honest and poltician in the same sentence is a cry for help and a crime against humanity.
Dan Harmon (author) from Boise, Idaho on January 01, 2011:
That is exactly my point - they use the money received from business to buy the votes for reelection. Actually governing for best results for the country is strictly secondary. I cannot say that they actually take bribes, but they certainly accept large donations to reelection funds and both are for personal gain, not for the good of the people. In my book it is dishonest.
Kindacrazy from Tennessee on January 01, 2011:
All of the elected officials in Washington are no less than crooks. If insurance companies lobby for caps on medical insurance or drug companies want to mandate unlimited costs of drugs, it's a done deal. How? Lining the pockets of Senators and Congressmen. In other words, they go to Washington to make money, not on their salaries mind you, on whatever industry is willing to pay.
Dan Harmon (author) from Boise, Idaho on December 30, 2010:
Can you recommend a breed? I don't like Banty's...
I fear you are right, DeGreek. The corruption seems to have spread to the same population electing our "leaders", as they are quite happy to keep re-electing the same liars and scoundrels. Most of those same politicians that repealed the Idaho term limits law are still here as no one seems to care.
De Greek from UK on December 30, 2010:
Unfortunately, there is no hope. Corruption is now so entrenched world wide, that the only solution is to live in an isolated spot and raise chickens...