So many people tune out when it comes to politics. They can’t stand to watch political news coverage because it can be boring, petty, repetitive, sensationalized and disingenuous. People see politicians as dishonest and unethical. A November 2010 Gallup Poll revealed the only professions rated lower on perceived honesty and ethics than a Member of Congress were a car salesperson or lobbyist. And, of course, now Congressional approval is at an all-time single digit low of 9%. People are simply exhausted and disgusted by all the spin, half-truths, and lies.
The Amazing Mitt
If Mitt Romney’s body was as flexible as his issue positions, he could be the star contortionist and acrobat in Cirque du soleil. He has taken so many different positions over the years and has even waffled during his current campaign. The Democratic National Committee has done a very nice job of showcasing Romney’s inconsistency on the WhichMitt.com website. Sadly, however, Mitt is far from alone in changing his positions to suit the current environment.
Representation for the Highest Bidder
Another unfortunate reality that undermines people’s confidence is the fact that some politicians will work on behalf of the people or groups who give them the most money. When this happens these elected representatives are not living up to their obligations. We elect representatives to be public servants and to vote on behalf of the best interests of those in the district and the nation as a whole. As soon as someone begins working for interests based on donations or favors, they are no longer a Congressman – they are a political prostitute with their services for sale to the highest bidder.
Some politicians let the power go to their heads and think they can do anything without getting caught. Every several months some sort of potential sex scandal is cropping up among our fine candidates and elected leaders. And, what do the vast majority of them do when confronted with allegations? Lie initially by denying wrongdoing and only reveal the truth after enough damning evidence comes to light that they have no other choice.
Don’t Trust, Just Verify
Former President Ronald Reagan famously said “trust but verify”. When it comes to politicians I would recommend a slightly different course – don’t trust, just verify. I firmly believe that anyone running for public office should be asked to take a polygraph examination (i.e., lie detector test) and that the results should be made available to the public. Serving as a federal level public servant is one of the most important roles we can bestow upon an individual. I don’t believe it is too much to ask that we have some confirmation that they actually believe what they say during their campaign.
In addition to asking questions to ensure that each candidate truly believes in their particular campaign platform and messaging, I think we should ask questions such as:
1. If you were faced with a decision to vote for what you felt was right for the country or for what most of you large donors wanted, would you vote for what you felt was right even if it meant you would lose donations and that you may not win the next election?
Everyone would answer yes to this question. However, my guess is that only a small percentage would actually be giving a truthful response.
2. If voting against a bill would hurt your opposing political party and give your party an advantage, would you vote no even if you felt the bill was important and positive for the country?
This is an important test to see if partisanship is more important to an individual than improving our country.
3. Given that our current federal revenue is $2.174 trillion dollars and spending on four items is $2.311 trillion dollars (defense/security $891 billion, social security $727 billion, medicare $488 billion, and interest on the national debt $205 billion), do you truly believe we can balance the federal budget only through budget cuts?
This question would reveal not only the liars but also those who do not have the knowledge or intellect to lead. Anyone who answers yes and is not lying falls in this latter category and needs a refresher course in elementary school mathematics.
Do We Mean What We Say?
Some people may find the lie detector test proposal to be too radical or extreme. I disagree. I think this is a minimum basic step we must take if we want more honest public servants instead of dishonest politicians.
Most people say they wish we had better, more honest leaders but don’t take steps toward finding these leaders. I know sometimes it feels as though you, as one individual, can’t change things. In the short-term and in isolation, that is true. But things can’t and won’t change until many individuals across our nation stand up and ask for the change we desire. Everyone can do something. Even if you are only making your friends and family aware of these issues and problems, you are making a difference.
People are disgusted at the lack of integrity of many of our elected leaders and, to avoid the revulsion, they simply turn away from politics. While I understand the disgust and desire to avoid thinking about the character shortcomings of many of our leaders, we can’t afford disengagement if we want things to improve. Accountability in politics is only possible if the people are involved, engaged, and hold elected officials accountable. Bitter avoidance and apathy will ensure that things never improve.