Tuesday, February 03, 2009


Politics today has a lot of problems, and I don't mean issues or the economy or anything like that, such matters are a part and parcel of politics. People will always legitimately argue about which path to take on any given issue and that is fine.

No, I am not talking issues, I am talking politics and political behavior. This story about President Obama's promises about how he will change how Washington works is my point.

Politicians make promises that "if elected, I am going to change how Washington works" or the way Annapolis works, as if one person or a small group of people can change that overnight, or even over the course of a four year term. Obama's promise about lobbyists in the White House is just pure populism and a promise that in no way would he be able to keep. Lobbyists in Washington DC are often experts in their field, they know teh policies and the policy implications better than any generalist like a Congressman, Senator or President. Now obstensibly, these elected officials should be able to and routinely do access experts from many different sides of the issue (that elected officials don't is a function more of laziness or partisanship than most are willing to admit) and thus be more informed about an issue. Further, lobbyists have a first amendment protected right to exist (see the First Amendment right to petition the government for a redress of grievances). Lobbyists are not going away and any elected official, from the newest, greenest Congressman to the President of the United States can no more do away with lobbyists than they can do away with TV.

So promises of this kind made by politicians will almost certainly be broken. The motivation to make the promises is easily understood--they do it to get elected. It really is no more complicated than that. I also believe that these candidates and elected officials really are sincere in their desire to "fix Washington." Whether that sincerity is built upon naivety or upon egotism is irrelevant, they believe they can do it.

But the larger question is, why do we Americans continue to elect people based on such clearly transparent and ultimately fragile promises? Why do we continue to believe that "this candidate is different?" Why do we continue to believe that "this is the guy to make the necessary changes?"

In reality the only power to change comes not from a leader, but from the followers. We have to start insisting on a little more honesty, a little more clarity. We have to be mindful that change comes slowly in our system, it was designed to be that way. But the engine of change is not Washington, it is beyond the Beltway and in our backyard.

So the next time you are talking with your neighbor about politics, don't talk issues, talk honesty, talk reality and talk about clarity. Again, arguning about policy and solutions is inherent in our system and we have a long history of disagreements that don't divide us. But if we want real change in Washington, there is not an elected official out there that can make that change without us.

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