How to understand politics and politicians

Most of us will at least some of the time wonder how to understand politics and politicians.

Even the brilliant Michael Barone will say about some politician who has been in office for a long time that he or she has devoted many years of “public service.” With no disrespect of Michael Barone, he is just trying to be non-partisan, but we all know that public service is what volunteers who pick up trash on the highway do, not politicians.

Firefighters and the police do public service, at least most of them. A firefighter who rushes into a burning house or a police officer that responds to a domestic violence call is doing public service. Most of the time they aren’t politicians and so don’t behave like politicians.

Donald Trump was not a politician before he ran for president. He may be one now but of a much different sort than all the rest of them. That’s why the NeverTrumpers hate him. He’s not one of them and he’s doing things they would never do. He stands up to them. He doesn’t put up with their nonsense. He’s serious about making America great again. That befuddles them. It’s not the way they think.

A politician who enables and encourages illegal immigrants who commit crimes against American citizens is doing public damage, not public service. That politician is serving his or her personal interest not the public interest. He’s placing his personal interest in getting elected ahead of the interests of the people he wants to vote for him.

No one understands this better than the great Thomas Sowell. May he live forever.

In a column from 2009 he said:

No one will really understand politics until they understand that politicians are not trying to solve our problems. They are trying to solve their own problems— of which getting elected and re-elected are number one and number two. Whatever is number three is far behind.

Many of the things the government does that may seem stupid are not stupid at all, from the standpoint of the elected officials or bureaucrats who do these things.

You might like to read the whole thing. It’s one of Sowell’s gems.

The economist James Buchanan (1919-2013) has given a scholar’s analysis to this thinking, in his Public Choice Theory which holds that politicians and bureaucrats approach everything the same way everyone else does, from their own self interest.

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