I was talking with a friend in their own journal the other day, and they pointed out that the word "politics", as used in the common parlance nowadays, tends to mean only the nasty sort. It's probably true, but I think this is a bad idea, so here's a brief defense of why politics should not be thought of as fundamentally evil. Pardon the exhortation, but this is a point I find I really care about.
First, let's be clear: politics are always with us. There's nothing wrong or broken about that -- it simply reflects the differences between people. Your priorities and views are not exactly the same as mine, and we need to mediate and address those differences, and figure out how to work together. That's what politics is for: mediating our differences.
On the national level, it's the same thing. "Politics" isn't about greed -- it's about managing the internal differences that we have as a society. We have a *lot* of differences, and managing them isn't an easy task. But it's absolutely essential if we are to be able to function.
So done right, politics is not only not evil, it's a downright noble calling. I mean, I have to look at this as a Mason: a member of a club that is dedicated to principles of truth and brotherhood and all that kind of stuff. It's not accidental that a lot of Masons have historically taken a path into politics -- indeed, it's downright logical. If you think that helping society work smoothly is important, then politics is important. The serious and principled politician understands how delicate his job is: to reflect his views and those of his constituents, as well as to help the larger society function. Balancing those requires discipline, care and thought.
Yes, it is true that there are plenty of bad politicians, of various stripes. Some are simply venal: people who follow the path into politics as a means of accumulating personal power and wealth. Some are fanatics, who don't understand that, if they tear society apart in pursuing the goals of their faction, they do no one any favors. And some are just plain incompetent.
But I think it's counter-productive to *expect* that of our politicians, tempting though that is. Frankly, if we expect our politicians to be partisans, we subtly encourage partisanship: we send them and ourselves the message that that's how things work. And we've seen in recent years how destructive hyper-partisanship can be. (Frankly, there was a period of about two years there when I wasn't sure the country would survive, although I *think* we've steered past the rapids.) And if we tell ourselves that only bad people go into politics, the good ones that we want and need in the job won't do it -- why would any good person go into a career that receives only scorn?
It's crucial to remember that politics can be a force for good -- and that good does *not* necessarily mean winning every fight. It means working through our collective differences to find the necessary compromises. Yes, compromise sucks, but it is frequently the best course for society as a whole. You can usually tell that you've found the right solution if both sides are kind of unhappy about it.
So I urge everyone to resist the easy path towards cynicism, take politics seriously, and remember that many politicians, on all sides, are at least trying to be the good sort. Those need to be encouraged, whether they're our people *or* the loyal opposition. Because if we don't engage in good politics (working with people) we'll inevitably wind up with bad politics (working against them)...