I attended a dinner recently where West Virginia Governor Joe Manchin was being honored. During his introduction, the emcee cracked a joke that compared members of Congress to drunken sailors. I'll spare you the details, but the punch line was that the drunken sailor took offense to being compared to a Congressman.
The audience roared with laughter.
The Governor, on the other hand, wasn't as amused. He stated that in choosing to make buffoons of our elected officials, we were only making it less desirable for "good people" to want to step up and run for public office.
Is it just me, or are representatives doing a fine job making buffoons of themselves lately? Even before Obama signed the healthcare bill, I've watched with gross disappointment as both Democrats and Republicans face-off in a hyper-partisan pissing contest over who is screwing America more.
Never one for being even-tempered, John McCain looked like a tick about to pop in interviews last week - coming short of saying he won't cooperate with Democrats as punishment, but throwing out "sleazy deal" about as often as he said "Joe the Plumber" in the third presidential debate.
This is our government in action? Really?
Call me naive, but I want to be proud of Washington and, by default, those we send there. I actually liked John Edwards - and even forgave him the hypocrisy of getting a $400 haircut while making poverty his platform on the campaign trail. But hiding his pregnant mistress while lying to the American public and his cancer-stricken wife? That's a new low.
In other words, seeing Jesse James in the news with his tattooed side dish doesn't make me spit out my coffee. Politicians, however, are elected by usto speak for us, and so I don't think it's wrong to hold them to a high moral standard. More importantly, I think they should hold themselves to a standard that reflects the best our country has to offer. And when Sarah Palin runs around like Alaska's answer to Yosemite Sam, urging the nation to "RELOAD" and make target practice of weak Democratic districts, I have to think we have a long way to go in that regard.
In fact, I wonder if we're not subconsciously teaching would-be representatives that it's okay to be a scumbag - as long as you don't get caught - and that winning in politics comes not by having the best solution, but by demonizing the other guy. If so, perhaps Manchin was on to something. Perhaps this toxic environment will make it harder to elect "good people."
Any Poli Sci majors out there rethinking a life in public service?
If so... what a tragedy. Personally, I hope this peek into the hornet's nest of government has the opposite effect. I hope it inspires more "good people" to stand up and run for office, i.e. those able to have a healthy debate on the merits of an idea, able to respectfully disagree without a call to arms, and those willing to do what's right, even at the risk of what's popular.
Then, maybe we won't laugh so hard when our officials become the butt of a joke. And that - as Joe Biden would say - is a "big f*cking deal."