Honest Men in Washington

Matt Taibbi’s post yesterday praising the honest and conviction of Senator Bernie Sanders is a great reminder that these are characteristics politicians are capable of possessing in genuine ways. Taibbi writes:

I can live with the president fighting for something and failing; what I can’t stand is a politician who changes his mind for the sake of expediency and then pretends that was what he believed all along. You just can’t imagine someone like Sanders doing something like that; his MO instead would be to take his best shot for what he actually believes and let the chips fall where they may, budging a little maybe to get a worthwhile deal done but never turning his entire face inside out just to get through the day. This idea that you can’t be an honest man and a Washington politician is a myth, a crock made up by sellouts and careerist hacks who don’t stand for anything and are impatient with people who do. It’s possible to do this job with honor and dignity. It’s just that most of our politicians – our president included, apparently – would rather not bother. [Emphasis added]

Bingo. I would say that as a political operative and someone who has spent most of my life drawn to politics and towards the idea of the nobility of public service, the highlighted passage has been a benchmark assumption. Over time, I’ve come to understand that the number of actually honest politicians is a perilously low number. The depressing side of political work comes not from failing to see any people do this work with dignity – there are those that do and are inspiring as a result – but how many people you thought were in that category are actually disinclined from working honestly, with dignity, for the public good. Some walk away from it because it is hard. Others walk away because they never believed in honest service to begin with. In both cases, the challenge is that the system is run by people who don’t bother to do their work “with honor and dignity.” This speaks to the value of Bernie Sanders 8+ hour long speech against the proposed tax cuts. He stood up as a hero for those who opposed the cuts and did so without apology. We need more actions like Sanders’ in both chambers of Congress, as these inspire people who watch them and remind us that it is possible for people of principle to work with dignity in the halls of power.

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