Friday, 8 May 2009

Why do we hate our politicians?

Well hate is probably too hard a word, but politicians are certainly not held in high regard. Why is that? Are politicians more greedy, self-centered, obnoxious than the rest of us? Why do people have such a low opinion of the players and institutions in our political process?

John Hibbing and Elizabeth Theiss-Morse put forward an interesting thesis in "Congress as Public Enemy" (1995). They argue that our contempt arises from a dislike of the processes of democratic government. We like the idea of democracy - but have an inbuilt distaste for what it involves.

In order to resolve the problems and competing demands that we face as a society we need bargaining and compromise. We want open discussion and a chance to have our say on matters of interest to us. We want to reap the benefits of the modern age, without being personally affected by its necessary disadvantages. We want government services without the pain of taxes.

We disdain compromise; are irritated by long discussions where everyone gets to say what they want - often at length. NIMBYs ("Not in my backyard") are regarded as selfish obstacle makers, yet we can be NIMBYs ourselves when our neighbourhood is threatened.

We hanker after clear, quick decisions - but only an authoritarian government can achieve these. As Winston Churchill once said, "Democracy is the worst form of government except for all the other forms that have been tried"

The trouble with representative democracy - is that it does represent us.