Does It Really Matter? Why do you get involved?

On a regular basis, I can count on someone saying to me, “Why do you get involved in that politic stuff? Does it really make any difference? Does it matter? You know, all politicians are crooks and the whole the political world is dirty. I can’t imagine why you’d get involved with it.”

The core idea for many of these people is the last one – the whole political world is dirty and you shouldn’t get involved with it and maybe if you’re involved, you’re dirty too. The sludge of corruption from Bush and the Republicans since 2001 only serves to reinforce the idea. The partisan witch hunt over Bill Clinton’s blow job was part the problem too – it created the impression that even a basically good man like Bill Clinton must be dirty to get ahead in politics. Whitewater – which after almost a decade turned up NO wrongdoing by anyone affiliated with the Clintons added to the overall impression of politics as a dirty business. Dishonesty, corruption, graft are all assumed to be part and parcel of the political game.

The historic levels of corrutpion achieved in US politics in the last 7 years is responded to with a world-weary shrug and people go about their business. After all, they tell themselves, it is the nature of the beast and of course politicians expect you to pay to play and Tom Delay’s mistake was getting caught. There’s no passion to reform the system because people are convinced reform is pointless – politics itself corrupts and is corrupt. The system is flawed and there’s no reason to get involved – good, average people will only be corrupted by exposure. So good, average decent people keep their distance.

Which makes it easier for the corrupt and dishonest to operate without fear of being voted out of office.

Which makes it easier for good people to get tired and to stay away from the system. It becomes a feedback loop. The reformist zeal of previous generations of Americans hasn’t died, but it needs rekindled, reignited into a fire to demand honest politics.

I deplore the tactics of so many politicians – from George W. Bush’s brutal savaging of John McCain in 2000 to Hilary Clinton’s careful triangulation and double speak to the average politico on the street’s mudslinging a la Dave Buhler – but ultimately, most of the pols I’ve met are basically decent, more or less honest people who are trying to do what they think is right. They just don’t feel passionate about remaking politics into a more transparent and democratic system because they don’t know where to start. They know the influence of money is negative and they want to reduce it, they want more average citizens involved. They just don’t know how to make it happen and they don’t see a passion for it in the citizens they talk to.

State legislators in Utah say that 10 phone calls from constituents on a single issue is a veritable flood on that issue. 20 emails on a single issue is almost unheard of. In a sick way, the influence of groups like PCE are great because they use their massive mountains of out of state and Overstock.com dollars to get people emailing our legislators. I honestly think our legislators were shocked when they found out a majority of Utahns oppose vouchers. They weren’t hearing that during the session or in last year’s election. The influence of money is playing out negatively. But they also have to pay for re-election campaigns and they aren’t getting any cheaper.

The system – and it is a system – creates disincentives for the kinds of reforms that would really make a difference. Conversely, those who advocate for such reforms don’t feel they have the backing of the voters, even though they do.

The attitude that all politics is dirty creates a different feedback loop. Voters tell themselves politics is dirty and politicians are dirty. So they stay away. They tell themselves they have no influence, no power, no ability to be part of changing the system. When things go wrong, they tune out because they expect corruption, deceit, graft and failure. People get further and further away from their government – they stop voting, they stop knowing the name of their member of Congress, state legislature, city government. When elected leaders utterly and completely fail as impressively as George W. Bush, the citizens don’t get angry because, well, it’s a dirty business and they don’t want to get involved.

A couple years ago, I was talking about my experiences at the State legislature when friends of the family said, in horror, “Why would you get involved in such a dirty, dishonest business with such a bunch of dirty, dishonest people?” I told them, “If good people don’t get involved, then it will be a dirty, dishonest business. I’m an honest person and I want the system to be honest. And I’ll be up there letting our legislators know I’m watching.”

Getting involved does make a difference. I was at the bill signing ceremony for Utah’s hate crimes law – Pete Suazo was fighting for Hate Crimes Legislation the first year I was advocating for it. Then David Litvack. I was furious the year one Republican said it was BOHICA legislation – Bend Over Here It Comes Again (I’m sure he didn’t mean the double entendre). But that guy is gone and the bill was signed and I was in the room for it. At the table with legislators and activists and the Governor. We never stopped fighting for what was right.

I think the reason so many volunteers have been out walking for Ralph Becker, so many people have given up their friday nights to help out at campaign HQ and have given money and energy is because they see in Ralph Becker a man of incredible integrity. He’s not just honest, he cares about the system working the way it should – involving voters, engaging people. He’s not boring – no, he’s exciting because he cares like we do. The system should be honest and it should be ethical and it should work for all the people.

I’m helping him because he’s the kind of elected leader I want to see in my community.

At the end of the day, if I can help get more decent, honest, hard working people with integrity elected and get them listened to in the halls of power, every second I’ve spent will be worth it. And it does make a difference. For the people this year who have dental and vision because of the Medicaid I helped fight for, the it’s worth it.

And every decent, honest person who gets involved is one more person who is saying, “No more. No more corruption. No more pay to play. No more ethical problems. No more selling the government to the highest bidder.”

I love my country and I love it enough to fight for it be better – to live up to the promise it holds, not give it up to the people who shrug and say, “That’s how the game is played.”

  1. #1 by Thomas W. Clay on September 30, 2007 - 10:40 pm

    “The sludge of corruption from Bush and the Republicans since 2001 only serves to reinforce the idea”

    So, the Republicans weren’t corrupt before 2001? 🙂
    I take exception to that statement – most Republicans are decent people. Most Democrats are too.

    “The partisan witch hunt over Bill Clinton’s blow job was part the problem too …”
    He wasn’t impeached because of his behavior in the White House. He was impeached for lying under oath, among other reasons. Considering that he was under investigation from several sources (Whitewater, lawsuits from other women, etc.) the fact that he engaged in this sourt of behavior shows and incredible amount of chutzpa, complete disregard (or disdain) of many others, and just plain stupidity!

    Like you, though, I am involved and I am a decent and honest person (just ask me), just on the other side of the isle.

    If we don’t get involved, who will?

  2. #2 by Richard Warnick on October 1, 2007 - 7:18 am

    I used to identify Republican and conservative (though not far right or holier-than-thou). I didn’t like President Clinton, especially because I think he took illegal campaign contributions from foreign governments. But Newt Gingrich, the government shutdown, the absurd impeachment circus, and GOP hypocrisy made me an independent. I supported John McCain for president in 2000, Howard Dean in 2004.

    Frankly, given the fact that virtually all Republican leaders (including McCain) have bowed before G.W. Bush, the worst president ever, I can never trust or vote for a Republican ever again. The Democrats have done far more kowtowing to Bush than I thought possible, what’s up with that? Our political system seems to be headed for the dumpster.

  3. #3 by glendenb on October 1, 2007 - 7:37 am

    The R’s were corrupt in the 90s, too, but spent way too much time hunting Clinton to really indulge in their vices. It wasn’t until GWB was appointed by the Supreme Court that they started feeling invulnerable and started engaging in the most egregious behaviors. The K Street project, for instance, formalized and institutionalized the pay to play approach to politics, and in exchange, created a system in which industries were writing the laws governing themselves, and in which lobbyists were essentially given free reign. The decent, moral Republicans shut up and went along with it because it worked to their advantage. Don’t forget, it was the Republicans who eventually brought down Nixon – and by any measure this administration has been far worse than Nixon’s. Where have the moderate R’s been? Voting for everything Santorum and Delay sent their way.

    Don’t kid yourself about the Clinton impeachment. None of the years of investigations uncovered anything illegal. The lawsuits faded away. The talk was all about Monica and the blowjob. He lied about having sex with the chubby intern. The Republicans dressed it up as pretty as they could, but the impeachment was all about sex. The R’s hated Bill Clinton for no reason other than the fact that he was a Democratic president and they were going to do anything and everything they could to bring him down. Mention his name in most right wing fora and they still froth at the mouth and chew the carpet – same thing when you mention Hillary. It was never about anything other than sex and the desperate and frantic desire to BRING HIM DOWN.

    The Dems for reasons I’ve explored elsewhere, have gone along with it as well, abandoning their role as an opposition party – so afraid of the Republican noise machine they were willing to do or say anything necessary to not be targeted by it. Rather than strategize together, they allowed themselves to be divided and demoralized rather than standing up against the Bushistas.

    What’s needed is more average decent folks who are willing to be part of the process and hold our side accountable – no matter if we’re R’s or D’s we need to send the message that we will not tolerate corruption, dishonesty and graft.

  4. #4 by Larry Bergan on October 2, 2007 - 8:15 pm

    The Clinton impeachment wasn’t about lying under oath, it was the Republicans taking their corrupt corporate media out for a test drive and proving to the Democrats that they couldn’t win any battle in the future. The 2000 theft by the, (non states rights), federal supreme court further codified that message and all additional election thefts have cast it in concrete.

    All the Democrats had to do is point these facts out, and they have left it completely alone other then some joking around. Election theft in a republic pretending to be a democracy is no joke. Steven Colbert and John Stewart should devote a few hours of dead serious discussion to this issue before it’s too late.

    Keep up the good fight Glenden. You are on exactly the right track.

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