In Praise of Career Politicians

mocha chipComing home from grocery shopping yesterday, I pulled in to down-island Cronig’s to see if I could find a few things that Reliable either was out of (stew beef and no-beans chili) or doesn’t carry (Brigham’s mocha chip ice cream — the best).

Tobias Glidden, independent candidate for state representative, was outside talking with voters and passing out copies of his position paper. I stepped up and said that although I was actively supporting Dylan Fernandes, the Democratic nominee (which had to be obvious because I was wearing Dylan’s sticker on my shirt), I’d liked what Tobias had to say at the candidates’ forum this past August. It was good, I said, to have two qualified candidates running. The district would be well served no matter who won.

As I headed into the store, he said, “You know, I’m not planning to run for higher office.” I laughed and said he was young, who knew what would happen, he probably shouldn’t say things like that. He said no, he meant it.

And I’ve been wondering ever since why not planning to run for higher office was a plus.

No, I’m being disingenuous. Before I picked up my basket inside the store, I got the subtext: I’m not using the district as a stepping-stone to further my own career.

Unlike, ran the sub-subtext, my opponent.

This is a local variation on what I blogged about the other day in “Anti-Delusional”: “In national politics, inexperience and downright incompetence have become virtues, even among those who must know how many skills are required to understand and balance the interests of a diverse population and to keep the craft moving forward.”

Glidden’s experience is impressive. He’s demonstrated considerable competence. This is why he impressed me at the candidates’ forum. So perhaps he seeks to set himself apart from his equally experienced and competent opponent by insinuating that he’s not a career politician.

Google “career politician” and you’ll quickly gather that career politicians are in a class with pederasts, drug pushers, and serial killers. Why is this? Do we sneer at, say, career teachers or career carpenters in quite the same way? We do not.

town meeting

Town meeting is about as democratic as it gets these days, but the citizens would have a hard time getting anything done without those who put in the time to develop expertise.

What’s going on here?

Maybe we’ve got the old image in our heads of citizen farmers and scribes laying down the tools of their respective trades, serving a term or two in Congress, then going back to the plow or the quill.

Sorry, it doesn’t work that way anymore, if it ever did.

According to my favorite dictionary, a politician is one who engages in politics, and politics is “the art or science of government or governing, especially the governing of a political entity, such as a nation, and the administration and control of its internal and external affairs.”

This takes aptitude, skill, training, and expertise. Not everybody has it. And even those with aptitude need experience to develop their skills.

I’m an editor by trade. Although editing takes both aptitude and experience, plenty of people think that anyone who can read and write is a potential editor.

Um, no. Maybe this is why it bugs me so much that some people believe that politics doesn’t require aptitude, expertise, and experience.

So back to this guy who thinks it’s a plus that he doesn’t plan to run for higher office. Say he gets elected this time, next time, or in the not-too-distant future. Does he plan to keep running for re-election and (most likely) getting re-elected till he hits retirement age?

I see a couple of problems with this. One is that he’s effectively blocking anyone else from winning the seat and acquiring the experience that serving as state rep brings. Another is that at some point he’s bound to realize that he’s getting a little bored, a little stale, and wanting to move on. Where to? Well, higher office would seem to be a sensible choice: he could take his experience and his understanding of his own district to the next level.

But oh no: that would make him a career politician.

Of course he could always go back to his plow or his quill — noble trades both — but is that the best use he could make of his political experience?

I don’t think so. I would love to see Dylan Fernandes and Julian Cyr (Democratic candidate for state senate) take their energy and the skills they hone in the state legislature and move on to the next level, taking their deep knowledge of the Cape and Islands with them. If one of them knocked our so-so (Democratic) congressman off his perch, I’d be thrilled.

Among Barack Obama’s many assets as president is his experience of being a black man in the U.S. No previous president has had it. It’s freaked some people out, and led others to nurse unrealistic expectations of what he could achieve. Something similar will play out when Hillary Clinton takes the oath of office next January. No previous president has had the experience of being a woman in our very sex-divided society.

I would love to be represented in Congress or in the Massachusetts statehouse by someone who carries in his/her mind and heart what day-to-day life in the Cape and Islands is about, what we’re good at, what we worry about. And that is not going to happen if our elected representatives choose not to go any further, lest they be considered career politicians.

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About Susanna J. Sturgis

Susanna edits for a living, writes to survive, and has two blogs going on WordPress. "From the Seasonally Occupied Territories" is about being a year-round resident of Martha's Vineyard. "Write Through It" is about writing, editing, and how to keep going.
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11 Responses to In Praise of Career Politicians

  1. Reblogged this on Weaver's Knot/Inspired by Glenda Bailey-Mershon and commented:
    Smart thinking, Susanna! Just what I’ve come to expect from you. Thanks.

    Like

  2. Your community’s interest in its own politics is nothing short of inspirational. I wish we could all be so conscious of what that means…

    Like

  3. Juleann says:

    Well-said, Susanna — thanks for posting this. I do think it is okay NOT to plan (or want) to run for higher office, but the backlash against “career politicians” is short-sighted. Although, there are a few old geezers I can think of who ought to move on . . .

    Liked by 1 person

    • I think it’s okay too, but in this particular case I think one candidate is using it to set himself apart from the other candidate — not all that surprising, because they’re both qualified, though their approaches differ somewhat.

      Like

  4. Helen Green says:

    I’m going out to buy Brigham’s Mocha Chip now!

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    • I might have to put in a request at up-island Cronig’s. They’re carrying Mocha Almond (which is good) but not Mocha Chip (which IMO is close to nirvana). For Mocha Chip I have to go to down-island Cronig’s, where I don’t know anybody and can’t find bloody anything.

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      • Helen Green says:

        I wasn’t able to find Mocha Chip down island, so I got Mocha Almond which I love too but wanted to try the Chip. I haven’t had it in years. I’m a very big Brigham’s fan in general.

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      • Oh lord, maybe I got the last one! I better make sure they restock. Brigham’s was the house brand at the little ice cream store/lunch counter in Weston center when I was growing up. I got hooked very early.

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  5. Jennie says:

    Great post, Susanna, with complex thoughts. To our founding fathers, a political position was not a career, but an opportunity to serve our country. Half of me is cheering Glidden, because that mindset seems to indicate his interests are in the people he is serving, not his career. On the other hand, if he does that very well, those people will want him to stay on. I could go on!

    Like

    • The tricky thing here is that he’s using this to diss his opponent (who I’m supporting), who’s every bit as committed and experienced and who has been running an amazing campaign, knocking on thousands of doors across the district and listening to people. Our district is logistically the most challenging in the state: it has roughly the same population as all the other districts, but it includes two islands (Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket) and a chunk of Falmouth on the mainland. We look close together on a map, but it’s pretty much “you can’t get there from here” unless you’ve got a plane or a boat.

      Liked by 1 person

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