What comes to your mind when someone says the word ‘Politician’? For me, and most of you what comes to mind is a person who is primarily interested in political office for his selfish reasons or other narrow, and short-sighted motives. They lie, obfuscate, make hollow promises, and avoid answering important questions, and they rarely take responsibility for the errors they make. I am sure some ethical politicians want to work for society, however, for the whole world in general, ‘politician’ has become a dirty word, we think of them as corrupt, self-serving, and, at best, amoral. 

We want our politicians, our leaders to be good people and act morally on our behalf. Yet, time and time again they fail to live up to our expectations and provide for society. 

Multiple aspiring leaders have insisted that though they aspire to political office, they are not politicians, these include:

Well, you need somebody, because politicians are all talk, no action. 

 —Donald Trump (June 2015)

But voters are far more discerning. They’ve learned over and over again politicians don’t tell us the truth.  

 —Ted Cruz (17 January 2016)

I am proud to say that I am NOT a politician. 

 —Ben Carson (4 February 2016)

Why the reputations of politicians are so low and why are they always unable to rectify these maligned reputations? And there is no doubt some leaders with immense political power are reprehensible, selfish, egotistical, and at times evil individuals. 

Is it the power and glory that comes with the position that blinds politicians from fulfilling the promises they made?

Rather than delving into the reasons why most of us think so little of politicians, we could instead ask when ‘politicians’ became such a dirty word. The short answer to that is that it has pretty much always been one, since the beginning of politics, people with power have always been seen as evil, working only towards their good, and leaving the others to rot.

Whatever one says about the control, power, and influence of large corporations, huge private capitals, so far the main players in the world arena are and always have been stated and, accordingly, their leaders, they’re the true elites. It is on their decisions, and the policies they introduce that the future of the world depends on to the greatest degree.

One way of thinking about this problem is to examine what is required of an effective politician and whether this impacts how we think of the moral standing of a politician, or even of an individual. Politics is one domain of human interaction that tends to be morally and ethically messy. Politicians often find themselves in situations where they must choose between many different kinds of evils rather than choose between good or bad possibilities. No matter how he decides to act in a confusing situation, there will be times when a politician will unavoidably violate a cherished principle of value. At times, circumstances might force them to act in a way that breaks a promise or entails deception and, sometimes, even necessitates the use of violence or other wrong ways to achieve a lesser evil in the pursuit of what they believe will be a worthy end. 

One other problem that arises when it comes to morally evaluate politics and politicians is that success in politics demands a whole different set of virtues from those that are generally taken into account, admired, and praised in our day-to-day personal lives. Most effective politicians are those who are courageous, decisive, and maybe at times, ruthless and single-minded in the pursuit of power. However, what trumps these aforementioned requirements is that effective politicians need to accept that there will be times when they will be presented with unavoidable conflicts which would require them to take any action even when there will be no possibility of a decent outcome, and when all possible courses of action might seem dishonest ad blameworthy.

Returning to the question of why politicians act in ways that might undermine their credibility and wear down our trust in them, one way to answer this is to take note of the fact that the nature and demands of politics make this unavoidable. All too often we may be using an unfitting moral standard, one that might be perfectly suited to our personal lives, to judge our politicians and their politics. This is a deficient fit, and as a result, we tend to judge too harshly sometimes and at times not harshly enough. 

Now, to put it precisely, we do not want, and it is certainly not in our interests to have, vicious, decadent, and self-serving politicians take charge of our offices. Instead, we want our politicians to be respectable and virtuous men and women. But, as the political philosopher Michael Walzer once pointed out rightly enough, we also need and want our political leaders not to be ‘too good for politics’, thus, we should be able to correctly differentiate between the good, the bad, and the dirty handed.

Today, politics is an increasingly dirty word, mostly equated with duplicity, inefficiency, corruption, and undue interference. However, it has also become increasingly important that we be aware citizens, and raise our voices when we feel unjust leaders have taken the office, and aren’t meeting our demands. We should keep questioning, no candidate or party is perfect.

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