If you have not already done so, you may wish to read the
Introduction to Gnomica.
What this country needs is more unemployed politicians.
Angela Davis (26 Jan 1944 – )
This activist academic was big in the ‘movement’ during the late sixties in this country, but has kind of dropped out of sight lately. She was not everybody’s favorite back in the day, but was very much illuminated in the klieg lights of yesteryear’s celebrity politics.
The comment in the epigraph is odd coming from an avowed Marxist supporter of communism, a political system not known for its excess of elected politicians and lean bureaucracies. But it is still a good spring-board for a few thoughts.
On the assumption that she is talking about the United States, is there validity to this particular citation attributed to her?
Well, it’s not immediately clear to me that it categorically is.
One could not unreasonably argue pro and con.
It does depend on how do we define ‘politician’?
Is it only someone who is directly elected by the people, or is it the people who, having — directly or indirectly — their hands on the levers of executable power however they got there? It is of course the nature of our democracy that the former group, duly elected, will elect to appoint often huge staffs of acolytes, researchers, assistants and associates to help them do whatever it is they think needs to be done, such as reading and vetting bills that their employers will be voting on but don’t have time to read – like the Majority Leader, Harry Reid, for example. They do clearly have a certain power and influence, and thus might well be thought of as politicians-by-appointment.
On that understanding even a dog-catcher, being usually an appointment, is a politician of sorts, but aside from not enforcing seemingly unenforceable leash laws, I don’t think they do a lot of damage. And I don’t think it was that kind of pol that Davis had in mind.
I’m going to run with my thinking on this business of too many ‘unemployed politicians’ (broadly defined) along somewhat different lines.
Now, I am most assuredly not one of those political nihilists who say that we should do away with politics and the politicians who nominally run things. For the obvious reasons: think about societies where politicians in no way elected run things, as in northern Mali, for example, or eastern Congo, or Assad’s Syria. If we extend the notion of politicians-by-appointment further down the line, so to speak, what about the vast bureaucracies not attached even indirectly to some elected politician? I have in mind such functionaries as those who work at passport offices, in employment bureaucracies, at border crossings … It’s not that I hold some sour belief that these individuals are unnecessary, or even affirmatively out to make life miserable for the rest of the world, but that, with too many around, they and their variant interpretations-on the-spot and implementations of rules written higher up can get in the way of efficiency as each seeks to assert the hegemony of his own importance over that of the other enforcers. Do we really need them all?
That’s one view of the matter.
The other would be that, yes, not only do we need all the ones we already have but even more of them. Surely you have felt on more than one occasion that this or that local or federal government office could do with a bit more help up front at the desk where the lines stretch out the doors, and probably so too in the back offices where too few clerks delay the issuing of passports, the resolution of your tax audit, the decision on your eligibility status for this or that government program.
Then again, is there anyone who is not aware of the massive growth of government bureaucracies at the local, state and federal levels? Who has not wondered where it all will end? I certainly am aware, and I do wonder.
I therefore politely equivocate on the question of agreeing of disagreeing with the epigraph.