October 16, 2007

The lives of Politicians

David Brooks wrote an interesting article this morning in the New York Times. Basically Brooks argues that most politicians are involved in a game which dehumanises them. They have to campaign constantly, that involves both being uncharitable to their opponents and egotistic. They have to reduce policy decisions to tribal political decisions and all these things are demanded of them by the electorate operating within a democratic system. Brooks is right in many ways. What is interesting about this though is the way that our system creates a lonely and often very sad elite of people, so consumed by battling to reach the top, that they barely have time to consider what they should do when they arrive there. He speaks of the fact that politicians don't have time to privately consider or reason about what they do. They don't have that time because they have to spend that time answering questions and dealing with a media that grows by the hour. The problem is that often good politics and good policy contradict each other: the one might be symbolised by a character like Alistair Campbell, an obsessive who finds in every passing headline the panic of a moment, the other by a James Maddison thinking in the very long term and looking into history to write the American constitution. Unfortunately modern politics develops more Campbells than Maddisons and that is simply the way it is.