Saturday, April 12, 2008


Resuming my self-education in the qualities to be sought in a political candidate or officeholder (something I plan on continuing in the days moving up to the election), I found myself wrestling with the concept of honesty. Now many say that the honesty and politics are mutually exclusive categories, and I have to admit that there are times that I agree with them (especially lately). Regardless of its apparent scarcity however, we search for it almost desperately as we attempt to find our elected representatives. Going to my tried and true source of information (OK, not so much for the rites / rights thing, but I already owned up to that mistake), the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, I found the following:

This is a interesting definition, but I'm not sure that it means what it once did. If this is the definition that we are going to use (and I have to admit that it does have some value), I have to ask whether we are looking for sincerity of statement and purpose or merely the appearance of sincerity. I have to say that most of the time it doesn't seem to make any difference to anyone. In addition, I would ask that if we do want to make this distinction (and it is an important one), how are we to know the difference in these days of the speech writer, political operative, and the mainstream media having their way with us? 

Fairness and straightforwardness of conduct 
This seems a bit muddled as well. Quite frankly I didn't even know that straightforwardness was a word until I saw it there. Attaching this mouthful to the concept of conduct in an age that sees Paris Hilton and Brittany Spears as normal is simply bizarre. As for fairness, that word seems to have lost meaning long ago, especially in the arena of politics. Fairness is what the person using the word believes it to be, which usually means whatever provides their side with an advantage. I can't say that I find this laudable, admirable, or to be desired in a candidate.
Adherence to the facts 
I like this one a lot, but what are the facts and how are we to judge adherence to them? Facts, like statistics, seem to be things that are interpreted to bolster preconceived notions these days, in politics and in life. The term often becomes meaningless when those "facts" are viewed through the lenses being used, either rose colored or jaded. Sometimes, it appears that we are even allowed to stretch the facts to make a point for the "greater good" (just ask Al Gore). If facts have little or no meaning, adhering to them would appear to be either impossible or pointless.

So here in our 2nd voyage of discovery for the desired traits of a political candidate or office holder, we sadly find that we are once again to be disappointed. Like character, it appears that the concept of honesty which we seek is to a great extent both ethereal and illusory. Deep down, we all seem to know what it should mean, but how to find or judge it today in a political candidate seems to escape us. If anyone has a suggestion out there, I'm certainly willing to listen to it. In the meantime, I'm not sure that I can say it any better than Billy Joel ... 

"Honesty is such a lonely word. Everyone is so untrue. Honesty is hardly ever heard. And mostly what I need from you."



historymike said...

There is something to the mutual exclusivity argument, Tim, with regard to politicians and truth.

We tend to elect those who tell us the sweet lies we want to hear ("I can bring prosperity," "I am just like you," "I feel your pain"), but we do not elect those who tell us the hard realities of the world (Perot in 1992 and Nader in 2000, for all their faults, come to mind).

Americans claim to want honest politicians, but if a pol stands up and tells the truth, or bucks the two-party duopoly, he or she is quickly marginalized as a dreamer or a kook.

I suspect a truth-telling politician could not even get elected to a school board seat anymore.

Tim Higgins said...


As both a student and a teacher of history, you know and understand the facts all too well. Perhaps you also define the situation better than I did. We don't get honest politicians because we really don't want them.

As a consequence, the search that I discussed is disingenuous in most cases. Doing it however, makes us feel better about ourselves while simutaneously placing the blame on someone else.