The case of the modern elected official

By Stefan Herlitz

Flickr/Crazy George

From time to time, we, the American citizens, elect people to run our government. While the vast majority of government jobs are not elected positions, the most important jobs at every level of government are.

These elected officials are the men and women we choose to run our country. By electing them, we entrust to them the duty of managing the affairs of our government. Officials manage and sustain every public service our government offers, including maintaining the roads, post offices and schools; providing security against enemies, both foreign and domestic; regulating fair business practices; and advocating for the interests of the American people on the global stage.

We, as a nation, entrust these chosen few with the protection and welfare of the many, the most important and sacred duty of all. Our republic was, after all, created to be a government of the people, by the people and for the people.

Nowhere in the job description of any publicly elected official is it written that one must push one’s own political opinions. Nowhere is it written that officials must unflinchingly hold on to their personal beliefs. Nowhere is it written that the government must follow any dogma, theory or moral code beyond the pursuance of the common welfare.

Every individual may have his or her own beliefs, opinions and ideas of what is right and wrong, but such is not the luxury of the elected official. Whenever acting in an official capacity, it is the duty of every elected official to leave all such baggage at the door.

This duty to be unbiased is, of course, ignored with amazing frequency. Across the nation, there are those who abuse the privileges invested in them by the people to further their own personal beliefs at the expense of the people.

There are school board members who suppress legitimate science in the name of their faith. There are legislators who completely rule out tax increases based on ideology, and others who oppose entitlement reform with appeals to morality. Everywhere you look, principle is mistaken for good governance, and politicians view any variety of compromise as a betrayal of their values.

This phenomenon is not the fault of those in office, after all; it is foolish to blame someone for their own existence. Rather, it is our fault, the fault of the electorate, that we have allowed such individuals to attain public office.

On the whole, we don’t seem to understand what kind of person to vote for. We tend to vote for people who share our opinions, and not necessarily for the individuals who are most capable of running the government efficiently and without bias. We vote for those whom we view as having the highest standard of moral character, and hold our officials to a ridiculously high moral standard. This standard, which is extremely difficult for anyone to attain, simply makes it so that those who are best at hiding their vices are elected. We vote for people who hold strictly to their opinions and deplore compromise like the plague. We vote for people who promise us more benefits and lower taxes, despite the obvious logical fallacy of such a position.

These dismal voting habits help explain why the current Congress has incredibly low approval ratings and is known as the “Do-nothing Congress.” We pick the wrong people for the job and then attempt to hold each and every one of them to both the moral code they ran on and the promises they made. They promptly fail to live up to expectations, and the politicians band together in groups and attempt to prolong their careers by pushing the blame for their failures on each other instead of trying to fix the problems their inability to work together created in the first place. Those who are the best at the blame game get to stay, while those who lose go off to extremely high-paying jobs as lobbyists for special interests.

In the end, raving about the inadequacy of current government won’t fix the problem. Being angry never solved a debt crisis. In our republic, we, the voters, create the government, so it only follows that we should create the solution as well.

Stefan Herlitz is a Collegian columnist. He can be reached at [email protected]