Well, as a matter of fact I do wonder why Bernie Sanders chose not to directly take on Hillary Clinton’s challenge. Let’s expand the philosophical discussion a bit and try to understand what is going on in this round of presidential elections. Politicians of all colors and strips, since the beginning of time, have been doing what they want to do first and then finding the rationale to justify their actions. Our politicians have always subjugated reason for ‘passion’. I take that back, let me clarify that statement: all terrible (insert your own descriptive word here including: awful, bad, greedy, self-absorbed, rotten) politicians have subjugated reason for what they perceive as policies that are in the public interest (what Hume calls passion).
And we have had some very terrible politicians recently. Unfortunately, we no longer expect our elected officials to subjugate their needs to serve the public good. Harry DeRienzo’s recent essay on the subject of Money and Politics is thought provoking. Is our system inherently corrupt? Is there a fait accompli built into the system in which big interest (unions included) provide millions of dollars to candidates in exchange for favorable laws and policies – all without exchanging a word (or written statement); agreements that are “…based upon alignment of perceived self and public interest.” Thus, according to DeRienzo, there is no longer any need to buy votes.
Perhaps. But I do not subscribe to what DeRienzo suggests next, referring essentially to Clinton: “For most politicians, their public persona adopts a rationale that views collateral personal benefit as incidental, deserved and even proof that the public good is being served” leading to the death of reason.
I am not at all convinced this is what Hillary Clinton is doing during this election cycle. I think DeRienzo is being generous with his characterization. Hillary is doing something else that terrible politicians have been doing for eons: she is saying anything and everything just to get elected. She is not conflating public and personal interest, it is all about her personal interest; nothing public about it and I believe we are witnessing a situation of excessive greed.
The fact is that we are living in an era where more and more of our politicians are willfully either subjugated reason or have delusions of the alignment of perceived self and public interest. Maybe Nixon is to blame or is it Clinton (Bill, that is). But for some time we have lost faith in our public servants to act in the public interest, not their own (or more to the point, not blinded by some perceived merging of the public and private interests). Unfortunately, this is not surprising when we are seriously considering voting for Hillary and Donald Trump for President. Do we really want to return to the 90s when we had a White House that felt it was above the law? Especially with the e-mails obfuscation, Benghazi denials, The Clinton Foundation questionable donations. Or a president who is the epitome of self-promotion and self-aggrandizement. Thinking about another Clinton or the Donald in the White House gives me the heebie jeebies.
Thankfully, there are plenty of examples of politicians who have not subjugated the public interest for their own. Two easy historic examples: George Washington, the very reluctant politician who agreed to serve because he realized that he was the only person that could hold the nascent union together. Abe Lincoln, who overcame depression and somehow knew that he would not live to serve out his term, also knew that he had to serve the public interest, not his own. History is filled with example of public servants from the highest to lowest offices, serving the public interest. These politicians had ‘character’ and the strength not to succumb to the forces of the political climate du jour. More recent examples include the late Jack Kemp, a Republican who was not afraid to work with those he disagreed in order to create legislation that was in the public interest, not his interest or some perceived public interest. Or George Mitchell, a Democrat who was by all accounts one of the most trusted and respected Senators by both parties. And who was willing to do what it took to faithfully serve in the public interest, not his own. One last example that is closer to home, Gregory Sahd, my brother. Greg spent much of his entire professional life in public service including stints as Lancaster County Treasurer and appointments to other government offices until he retired last year. Greg was spending his retirement helping a local non-profit, until he was approached to consider being named Manager of the Borough of Columbia, PA. The town that we were born and raised. Greg was asked to improve the living conditions of the residents of this small community. He took the challenge not out of greed, or the desire for power or money, but to use his talents and expertise to improve the lives of his fellow residents. He took the position not to fulfill his personal self interest but to fulfill the public’s interest. Something rare these days, but not obsolete. There are those that continue to follow the example of Washington, Lincoln, Kemp, Mitchell (and countless others at all levels) who have character and the strength to serve the public’s interest because they believe that it is their personal responsibility to do so. These folks do not allow reason to become a slave to ‘passion’. In an odd way, Trump is perceived to embody this trait. The slice of the electorate who support his candidacy relate to his straightforwardness, perhaps confusing his jarring pronouncements as having the public interest in mind. Bernie Sanders has similar appeal (without Trump’s bravado). That is why I am disappointed that Sanders does not challenge Clinton on her Wall Street ties and the many other issues that plague her campaign.
I, like many Americans, are hoping that someone who has the character to serve in the public’s interest is elected as our next president.