The admirable politician

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.

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janice

25/06/2018

The Admirable Politician does, in fact, exist but not across the board, I'm afraid.  Admirable politicians in general is an impossible dream, at least it is in this modern world selfishness reigns supreme and truthfulness does not take priority  when the end justifies the means.

Candidates who possess all those admirable qualities are usually overlooked or discarded b y voters out of apathy, ignorance or gullibility as they grudgingly take time out from their footy or reality TV programmes to cast a vote at the ballot box.  

Australia has been taken over by the greedy, the power hungry, the selfish and the wealthy multi-national corporations.  The take-over was enabled by the plebs who've been kept uninformed and brain-washed by sports of any kind but mainly footy.  They've been fed mindless TV programmes sourced from America and told our National Broadcaster is 'bad' and 'biased' and needs to be sold.  Is it any wonder they go to the ballot box turkeys to vote for Xmas?

Ad Astra

25/06/2018

janice

Thank you for your comment. You are right: “Australia has been taken over by the greedy, the power hungry, the selfish and the wealthy multi-national corporations.”  We see this manifest every day as they, and their advocates, plead for a cut in company tax rates ‘so that they can be competitive with other countries’, even although there is no evidence that Australia has suffered lack of investment because of its current tax rates. Evidence counts for nothing – greed is all that motivates them.

They rely on their argument sounding plausible, which to the ignorant and unthinking it probably is. Herein lies another problem, to which you allude: “The take-over was enabled by the plebs who've been kept uninformed and brain-washed by sports of any kind but mainly footy. They've been fed mindless TV programmes sourced from America and told our National Broadcaster is 'bad' and 'biased' and needs to be sold.”

Uninformed plebs elected Donald Trump and will likely do so again, because they see in him a reflection of themselves. The same may happen here. Malcolm Turnbull’s appeal to voters to be ‘aspirational’, just he was and still is, may induce them to believe that greed is good - for all of us.

2353NM

25/06/2018

While I suspect that many go into politics for the 'right' reasons, supporting their community and trying to make it better, I wonder if the party system is the blame here. After all, generally those that are elected with a Party affiliation 'owe' the Party for the work that was expended in getting the new member the nice leather seat in the halls of power. I wonder if there is a process as overt as a 'serious conversation' about loyalty or if the process is more covert such as reminding the new MP that preselection is an ongoing fixture of the political party system.

Hanson recently left none of us unaware of the requirements for loyalty to the party over those that voted for the party. The 'disloyalty' of Brian Burston was played out in the media and the histrionics certainly looked good on TV. The adults that manage most of the other parties are probably slightly more used to doing the same thing behind closed doors after ensuring there are no mobile recording devices present.

However I don't know the answer. The PM of the day must be assured of half plus one votes in the House of Reps to govern. As Gillard demonstrated time and time again, they all don't have to be in the one political party for the government to do its job effectively. Logically, even if there were no parties, PM Joe Bloggs of Betoota would need to have alliances to effectively have control and to keep control all the independent politicians would have to horse trade 'core' principles for the agreed common good. The benefit of no or more smaller parties would be that a wider range of views would have to be considered before something became law.

Ad Astra

26/06/2018

2353NM

Thank you for your comment.

The ‘Party System’ has much to answer for. Parties are governed by entrenched ideologies, which individuals are required to adopt. Otherwise they are extruded as ‘outsiders’. Loyalty to the Party is a survival strategy. To gain preselection candidates have to endorse the Party’s ideology, no matter how repellent, and publically display it.

While this is understandable for candidates, why do individual voters stick with parties whose ideologies and policies are repugnant? Why, for example, do voters stick with the repulsive Trump? US political commentators believe that the reason that Trump was elected in the first place, and may be re-elected, is that his supporters see him as a reflection of themselves. He embodies the very attitudes and values they harbour. If you are watching Miriam Margolyes’ tour of the US on ABC TV you would have heard this from their own mouths. No doubt the same applies here!

totaram

1/07/2018

I just came late to this comment. So the voters who support Trump see themselves as "pussy grabbing", "lying cheating" crooks who declare bankruptcy whenever it suits them and get away without paying their creditors. At the end of the day all this gets them nothing much, because if they had put their money in a managed fund they might have been better off!

Patriciawa

2/07/2018

".........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......"

Yes, Ad Astra, it is indeed depressing to read this sort of deion of politicians in general, when it is so unfair and not supported at all by the character and actions of most of our elected representatives. The media are to blame for this debasing of the reputation of our politicians and other public servants. Because, although elected, they are indeed public servants and the majority of them known to their constituents, as being themselves, honest and law abiding people who serve us well. But that doesn't make good copy and gripping headlines.

The profit motive which drives the 'murdochmedia' et alia needs crime, scandal and corruption to sell its pollution promoting product. Or that's what seems to drive their editorial policies. And yet they fail, sell to few of us, are becoming redundant and soon, thank heavens, will go out of print. Hasten the day!

Meantime - the challenge for us all is to keep our air waves and the internet less influenced by the media moguls. How that is done I haven't a clue. Can somehow show me how, and what sort of contribution individuals me can make?

If I had 3 Politicians and 3 Aids and I took away 4 Constituents, how many Aids do I have?