I hate politics. I hate politicians. The Senate is lazy. The President is stupid. The Supreme Court is partial. Congress is useless, senseless, and hypocritical. “If I had a pistol with two bullets and was in a room with Hitler, Stalin, and a random politician, I would shoot the politician twice” (Michael Scott of The Office).
In truth, I don’t believe any of the carpet bombing-esque statements above. But it is hard to set aside the negative stereotypes associated with our government and its politics when we analyze current issues and politicians and listen to the news. Further, these stereotypes are ingrained in our attitude and being. From birth we have grown accustomed to hearing friends and family use them in discussions of government policies and political parties.
If you were raised in a family of Republicans you probably have heard terrible things said of Democrats and if you were raised in a family of Democrats you probably have heard equally terrible things said of Republicans. This aggressive mentality has likely sparked in you the urge to engage in political discussion or, the more likely, a desire to label government as corrupt, apathetically brushing aside politics as one might try to shoe-away a pesky house-fly.
I don’t care if you are a Republican, Democrat, or Ron Paul, there is a good chance you think Congress is incompetent. And even if you “don’t care about politics” you still take a swing at that house-fly every now and then. So why am I writing this article? My aim is for you to consider government and politics in a new light, one that is less pessimistic and more balanced.
Let’s begin with considering how people in our society tend to view politics and the status quo. The Washington Post conducted a poll asking people to describe Congress in one word. The top ten word choices were negative, including: ridiculous, frustrating, stupid, and childish. Statistics from various sources, including the New York Daily News, the Washington Post, and Gallup polls, show Congress has an approval rating of between seven and ten percent. According to the latest NBC News and Wall Street Journal poll, “Six in ten Americans are dissatisfied with the state of the U.S. economy, more than seventy percent believe the country is headed in the wrong direction, and nearly eighty percent are down on the country’s political system.”
The majority of people, whether they call themselves Democrats, Republicans, or Independents, think the government is responsible for some, if not many, of their problems. So I ask you: why? Why do people feel justified in their accusations?
I see a couple possibilities. First, as discussed already, it seems that politicians are easy scapegoats for our human problems because of various stereotypes. Dr. Wingard, Professor of Philosophy here at Covenant, defines a stereotype as “an oversimplified generalization about the members of a class.” For example: “Politicians are a bunch of hypocritical, prideful, dishonest, power-hungry idiots.” This is the easy answer for why things go badly in government. The hard answer, however, isn’t always a clear one. Rather, the hard answer comes from critically evaluating the problem or politician at hand and coming to a rational conclusion. The latter takes much more work than the former.
The second reason is in part due to mass media and in part due to our human nature. Current events, government issues, and politics as a whole are filtered through the news. What we hear is not the whole story. Success doesn’t sell as well as failure. Who cares about the story of political fidelity? The story of political scandal is far more attractive. It doesn’t matter if our streets are paved, the country isn’t in civil war, and our currency is stable, Chris Christie schemed to create a traffic jam! The news caters to our human desire to blame.
It feels better to place guilt on a group of people, namely politicians, whose faults we see every day plastered in the headlines of the news. Why take the blame for my business running into the ground, my bad health, or my general unhappiness when I can place the blame on government. Constituents of both political parties play the blame-game. The Democrat blames government for not doing enough while the Republican blames government for trying to do too much. How should we resolve this issue? The answer isn’t simple or easy.
Perhaps we should begin by acknowledging politics as a necessary and demanding calling. We should also check ourselves before we make blanket statements like “Congress is stupid/Republicans are idiots/Democrats are dumb” and belittle the work of many sincere politicians and godly Christian public servants. Sure, that government house-fly can be annoying sometimes, but in the interest of objectivity, shouldn’t we engage in political thought in such a way as to better humanity and glorify God? Shouldn’t we try to set aside our criticism and our negative stereotypes and engage government from Christ-centered perspective? I can’t decide for you. I just don’t think we need to shoot the politician twice. Once is probably enough.