There is no class of human being quite so reviled as the politician. Lawyers, telemarketers, used car salesmen, corporate executives, traffic cops and the poor souls who work at the Bureau of Motor Vehicles are all despised, yet even they seem to be held in higher esteem than politicians.
So often have we been lied to, and so frequently have our hopes been dashed by a fork-tongued devil serving in government, that no one trusts any of them anymore. Nor should we.
This has left all of us desperate and thirsty for a genuine, decent person to vote for who represents our view of the world and will actually act in our best interests. And therein lies the problem. We are so desperate for an individual savior in our political system that we very quickly and easily fall in love when we think we find one, only to later find out that the object of our affection wasn’t who we thought he or she was.
This phenomenon is on full display in this year’s Republican presidential primary. The front-runner, Mitt Romney, so thoroughly represents the “typical politician” who will “say anything to win” to most Republicans that they have been absolutely beside themselves looking for someone else – anyone else – who seems genuine, electable and real.
First it was Michele Bachmann. She looked to fit what people wanted. “She’s not like the others, she won’t hurt me,” we said to ourselves in the beginning. She believed in the things that the most excited base of Republicans believed in. Voters fell in love, and rewarded her with a victory at the Ames Straw Poll.
But afterward, it started to become obvious she wasn’t as advertised. She couldn’t be bothered to mingle with the peasants at campaign events. She spoke in preprogrammed macros. Some less-than conservative things about her past started to come out. She didn’t have a prayer of winning. Oh, but look over there! Rick Perry to the rescue!
Immediately the fluttering hearts of the primary electorate were beating. Look at all those jobs in Texas! He’s from the Lone Star State, so we know he is as conservative as they come. His face looks as though it is made of leather, so you know he’s tough.
What’s that you say? He’s a squish on immigration? He can barely string two coherent sentences together at a debate? What was that about mandating a vaccine for 12-year-old girls? Career politician? Whoa partner, let’s think on this one.
Hey, that pizza guy is pretty neat, we said. He’s never held elective office. He’s run a successful business and he almost single-handedly killed President Clinton’s health care bill. Sign me up for that guy!
You could hear the collective groans as Herman Cain’s candidacy was deflated by accusations of sexual harassment. Every day that goes by, he handles the situation worse and new, more worrisome details emerge. He’s no better than the rest.
And so we search on. Yet we continue to make the same mistakes that we have always made in politics – investing and believing in the people we vote for. We want to believe in somebody so badly that any time anyone comes around who marginally fits the bill, we fall in love.
When we start to realize these people aren’t who we thought they were, we make excuses for them. It’s the media! Dirty tricks from the other side! Yet as more time goes by, we become more disillusioned and a moment comes where we finally realize the truth, and we go off searching for our next chosen one, never considering that there isn’t a chosen one out there.
People are flawed. Buy into a cult of personality, and be left disappointed. Reagan raised taxes repeatedly, ran huge deficits and granted amnesty to illegal aliens. Obama hasn’t closed Guantanamo, has escalated the war in Afghanistan and launched new wars (without Congress), and hasn’t saved the economy. Sometimes people aren’t who you think they are.
Let this be a lesson to all of us: Put your faith in ideas, not people. Stop waiting for superman to save you, he’s not out there.
Matthew Gagnon, a Hampden native, is a Republican political strategist. He previously worked for Sen. Susan Collins and the National Republican Senatorial Committee. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org and read his blog at www.pinetreepolitics.com.