Let’s imagine a bright, fairly wealthy woman in her 40s named Dorothy who decides to go into politics. She has genuine concerns about rising costs of education, global warming, the environment, and the economy. She is a women of strong principles and is convinced that she can help improve her world. In order to run for office, she must attach herself to a political party, of course, since the costs of running a campaign these days are prohibitive — even for a woman who is fairly well-healed as Dorothy happens to be. So, let’s say, she decides to run as a Democrat since she has always tended toward the left a bit and that party seems to be more in sympathy with her concerns.
At this point, we must speculate, but we can make some pretty good guesses: she will have to adopt the party’s agenda as her own, even though she doesn’t agree with all of the items on that agenda. She’s not overly fond of the health care plan the party has endorsed, for example. And their stand on the environment strikes her as weak. But in order to get into the fray, she must accept the party’s agenda. Thus she starts by making a compromise. Or two. Then she meets with wealthy people who want to support her candidacy and as she needs their financial support she agrees to push for several of the items high on their agendas if she is elected. So she makes a few more compromises in order to bring those people along with her.
You get the picture? As she progresses along the path toward election she makes compromises here and there until the agenda she embraces in the end bears little resemblance to the one she started out with. She reasons that once elected she will be able to pursue those things she holds dear. In the meantime, she is focused on her election. As the days and week pass, she begins to realize that once elected she will need to continue to focus on her reelection as that becomes necessary if she wants to remain active in politics. In a word, the election and the reelection become the main focus of Dorothy’s attention and the compromises she has made along the way necessitate that she become a tool of those who have helped her get where she is. Without their assistance, she never would have gotten to first base And she will never get reelected: she owes them all. That’s the problem, isn’t it? Her personal agenda gets swallowed up in the frenzy of becoming elected and then staying in office.
This is a fictional example, of course, but I am convinced there is truth in fiction, even fiction of my own invention. I suspect this little fiction isn’t far from the truth and if so it would explain why there is so much disenchantment especially among the young about politics in general and disillusionment about certain candidates who have been a disappointment once elected to public office. We now have a breed of professional politicians who are expert at getting elected (and making the compromises necessary to do that) and whose main goal once in office is to remain there. Socrates said long ago that it is not possible for a person to enter the political arena and retain their integrity. I suspect he was right.