Look back over items published on The Political Sword
over the years and you will see countless pieces that describe the appalling state of politics here and overseas and the disgraceful behaviour of many politicians in our own and other countries. It’s depressing to read of their dishonesty, their self-centeredness, their recurrent disregard for those they are elected to serve, and sometimes even their corruption. The merchants of venality
told much of the sorry tale.
What then ought we be able to expect from our politicians? What do you look for in your representatives?
This piece is an attempt to assemble the attributes of the admirable politician. These are my views; you may have others. I will not attempt to identify politicians that exhibit these characteristics, good or bad. You know those who fit the bill.
When I assembled the attributes I thought were necessary, and supplemented them after a Google search, the list extended to over sixty items. To make them more digestible, I have clustered together like items into two major categories.
In deciding which attributes might head the list, I debated whether competence or honesty should, but decided that honesty was paramount.
Honesty, integrity, trustworthiness, sincerity, authenticity, morality.
To me, the admirable politician, above all else, is honest, able to answer a question or make a statement that is true: factually correct, coherent, plausible, authentic, and consistent.
I despise evasion and obfuscation: avoiding the question, answering another question, trying to score a political point, or simply trotting out the party line or parroting the press secretary’s daily blurb. I want politicians who can say ‘Yes’ or No’, not ‘Let me put it this way’ or ‘Let me make this point’, or skirt around the question with a babble of words that are so often code for ‘I don’t want to answer the question’.
I want them to think before they speak, and I want them to be consistent, so that an answer at one time accords with the answer given previously. If a previous answer was incorrect, or misleading, or incomplete, I want them to concede that this was so and offer a correction, even an apology. It is agonizing watching politicians squirm when avoiding the reality that they were wrong, twisting themselves into knots trying to retreat from erroneous statements. They appear foolish, but seem unaware of how silly they look.
I yearn for politicians who are moral, decent, sincere, straightforward, genuine and compassionate. The public will forgive them if they slip up or make a mistake so long as they acknowledge their error. There are few words that are as disarming as ‘sorry’ or ‘I apologize’, yet most politicians choke on them. I want too politicians who can forgive others who may have wronged them.
Recent events have exposed grave flaws, dishonesty, deviousness, selfishness, and at times corruption, even among senior politicians. Some have been forced out of their positions; yet still seek to claw their way back to the lucrative life of a federal politician. You know who they are.
Decent politicians give credit when credit is due, but too many recurrently display adversarial behaviour in their remarks and in their attitude. This antagonistic approach bedevils our political system – where one’s opponents’ white is always painted as black, where their actions are always portrayed as wrong or foolish or damaging or incompetent or stupid, or the cause of calamity. It is incomprehensible that one side could always be wrong while the other is faultless, yet that is what political parties want us to believe. Listen to their comments when significant public pronouncements are made, or when election talk is in the air. They can always delve into history to score political points and ‘prove’ that their opponent is to blame for everything that is not perfect, even when improvement has already occurred.
Isn’t it nice when a politician acknowledges that an opponent is right, or has a good idea that will be supported! Yet the opposite usually applies. We yearn for collaboration among our politicians so that the best thinking and the most innovative ideas can be applied to our nation’s problems. We are tired of the bellicose antagonism that crosses the chamber at Question Time, the raucously aggressive attacks that each makes on the other, the rabble-rousing more fitting for a partisan football crowd, the malicious questions, the belligerent replies, the saccharine ‘Dorothy Dixers’ and the nauseating responses. Don’t they realize how much we despise this behaviour?
Let’s look now at the intellectual attributes and qualities of the admirable politician:
Competence, intelligence, relevant knowledge, communication skills, leadership qualities, fairness, caring attitude.
We all want competent politicians. Who would want an incompetent one, no matter how nice? Yet we see people elected to parliament who are pig ignorant or just ill-informed, ready to deny scientifically established facts, often governed by unbefitting but deeply entrenched ideas, incompetent in their political work, and at times simply stupid.
Apart from these extreme misfits, there are others that harbour extraordinary ideas, have eccentric beliefs, are captive to the unshakable ideologies of their mentors, or who represent fringe groups who seek to impose their ideas on all others.
More sinisterly, there are those who push their ideological notions because it suits them politically, not because they are proven to be correct. We notice this most strikingly in the realm of economics and budget creation, where the economic rationale for the proposed measures too often flies in the face of long-established evidence to the contrary, where the measures seem to be fashioned to suit supporters rather than the common good.
I want intelligent politicians who are knowledgeable about politics, world events, the law, the constitution and the tenets of democracy, that have read and travelled widely, who understand political systems, who are able to anticipate events, and who have reliable instincts, a strong character, a stable temperament, and cool judgement.
I value politicians who are capable of researching issues, analyzing situations and solving problems in their electorate and the nation, who have strategic and tactical thinking ability, who can listen and learn, who recognize and accept sound advice, who are goal oriented, value driven, caring, and focused on the important issues.
I want politicians who understand local and national issues, who can write cogently, who can speak coherently and persuasively to a variety of audiences, and who can use social media capably. I despise those who seek to blame the media for their difficulties; I deplore those who cannot accept media criticism, who seek to close down media dissent.
In summary, I admire politicians that are confident, strong, focused, energetic, determined, well read, thoroughly informed, thoughtful, innovative, flexible, adaptable, and able to change their mind when the facts change.
Since Australians traditionally value fairness and ‘the fair go’, I admire politicians who have the pursuit of fairness, equality of opportunity and reward for effort, and social justice for all as the motivation that drives all their actions. I want politicians who always focus on the common good. I admire those who have pride in their country yet are not nationalistic.
The essential ability to relate comfortably to electors and communicate articulately with them, community leaders and colleagues, is grounded in the admirable politician’s background. I want politicians to have had a sound education, preferably at a tertiary level, including tutoring in public speaking, followed by life experience in an occupation outside of politics, where the opportunities and travails of ordinary people can be experienced and shared. I deplore the now common path of many new politicians: via posts as political apparatchiks within their party. This narrow exposure entrenches party tenets and dogma that militate against alternative thinking.
Management and organizational skills, crisis management ability, conflict resolution, interpersonal and networking abilities, and political marketing skills are essential for politicians in their electorates, in parliament and during committee work. Those who have responsibility for portfolios that require international liaison need sound knowledge about international affairs and the skill of interacting with those from different countries and cultures.
Those involved with immigration need empathy towards those seeking citizenship or asylum in our country. They need to extend a welcoming arm to them as they settle into their adopted country. The nasty, punitive attitude that seems to be the norm among many politicians involved in immigration needs radical change if we are to restore our reputation as a multicultural nation, touted repeatedly as ‘the most successful in the world’, one that has benefitted greatly from immigration. We need to be seen as a country that welcomes and values additions from a variety of overseas countries. Nationalism and white supremacist attitudes are counter-productive, yet still raise their ugly heads, even in our own country.
To succeed in our political milieu, politicians need to be charming and uncomplicated, energetic, devoted to their electorate, willing to make personal sacrifices to serve their people, and courageous, even fearless when making unpopular decisions that serve the common people and the nation as a whole.
Finally, wouldn’t it be gratifying to see selfless leadership that always puts the common good ahead of individual or party goals? How often do we see the common good sacrificed on the altar of entrenched ideology, sponsor advantage, electoral gain, or one-upmanship? The people are ignored so that the party and the individual politician can prosper.
Is the expectation that our politicians exhibit these desirable attributes an impossible dream? Could any politician display them all, or even the majority?
Whatever your answer, ask yourself: Is it unreasonable to expect those who make crucial decisions about our welfare and security, and are well-rewarded for it, are equipped with the necessary qualities? Leave your answer in Comments.
Whatever you think, I’m sure you will agree that the admirable politician as described here, is indeed to be admired.