If you look at the problems plaguing this nation today, from economic collapse to environmental catastrophe, it is safe to say that some politicians had some hand in the mess. Corruption in politics did not just become an issue. Obviously, this is a centuries-old crisis in the making. But the consequences of misguided policies and sub par politicians are so dire today—and the direct link between bad people and bad outcomes is so clear—that we must take notice.
After all, the disaster of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans was a failure of political leadership as much as it was a failure of the levees. The current BP oil deluge which has turned the Gulf of Mexico into chocolate milk has eclipsed the Exxon Valdez oil disaster of 1989. To be sure, the BP accident is an environmental threat that speaks to the deadly serious pitfalls of off-shore drilling. But it is also a crisis of bad political intentions, from the right-wing lobbyists such as FreedomWorks that worked with BP to push for more oil drilling, to the corporate lackeys at the 2008 GOP convention who shouted “drill baby dril.” Let’s not forget former Vice President Dick Cheney, who championed deregulation of the oil industry with his energy task force, and whose companyHalliburton figures prominently in the oil rig disaster.
Similarly, the Great Recession and the destruction of America’s middle and working class is as much the creation of deregulation-loving, Wall Street-enabling bipartisanship as anything else. Political greed almost killed healthcare reform. And for what it’s worth, although reform was historic, individual politicians’ quest for self-aggrandizement watered down the reform package, with the public option as a casualty.
This is not to say that all politicians are rotten. To the contrary, many are dedicated and committed to their constituents, and have a long, proud record of accomplishments. These are the honest public servants who were grown by the community, and who answer to the needs and concerns of the people. Perhaps they were propelled into office because of some issue or cause to which they were personally devoted, or a personal tragedy that changed their life. Nevertheless, these politicians take their job seriously, and might even take principled stands, sometimes to the detriment of their political career.
But these days, I can’t help but think of the lyrics to the old UB40 song“Folitician”:
You come chatty chatty chatty run up you' mouth; (repeat)
One man, one vote you hear from the shout. (repeat)
You full of pure promise but you tell damn' lies; (repeat)
You make a mistake And then somebody dies. (repeat)
Hey folitician, me seh hey folitician
Me seh hey folitician
What you doin 'bout the slums?
You sit around all day, jus' a twiddle your thumbs;
You have a strange expression
Mek you look like you' dumb. (repeat)
You worry everybody 'til you put them in a box. (repeat)
Who is the folitician which the song decries? I think of a poor shlub, maybe someone who is selling hot dogs on Market Street, or your thoroughfare of choice. Perhaps he or she is clueless on political matters. Perhaps this person isn’t too bright, maybe even dumb as bricks or semi-illiterate. In any case, this individual is malleable, a marionette looking for a puppet master. Some powerful interests may identify this shlub as someone they can use as their front man (or front woman, because pimping is an equal opportunity game).
Or, perhaps the folitician comes to Washington, or Albany, or Sacramento, or some other city of choice, with good intentions and great ideas. But the lobbyist money is just too good to pass up—it flows just like water, or oil for that matter. This supplemental income becomes their crack, if you will. Foliticians depend on the money to help support the lifestyle to which they have become accustomed. They blatantly flaunt their greedy inclinations in front of their constituents, casting their lot (and their votes) with those who paid them off, rather than who voted them into office. The voters are too clueless to notice, the foliticans think, and far too often they are correct.
Alternatively, the folitician might come to the scene, fully formed, as a slick, savvy, wholly-owned subsidiary of the corporation whose water (s)he was paid to carry.
Now more than ever, the public is beginning to understand that we, our economy, our health and our environment are paying a helluva price for pathetically corrupt political misleadership. America’s political system has a quality control issue. The product is flawed because the raw materials are flawed. If we allow them, this dysfunction will become our undoing. Blame the wholly-owned foliticans as we will for our current situation, and we should, we must assume responsibility as well. After all, they were not elected by themselves, and democracy wasn’t meant to be a spectator sport.
This article first appeared in The Black Commentator and is republished with permission.