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Why do we keep buying what politicians are selling?

Politics

Sales is an honorable profession. A good salesman connects people who have needs with good products and services that can help them. Both sides benefit. But in a fallen world where people treat each other as means instead of ends, and seek to profit themselves at other peoples’ expense instead of serving their needs, we view people who are “selling something” with justified suspicion. Car salesmen come to mind, especially used car salesmen, not a few of whom are keen to sell you more than you need, more than you can afford, and less than you think you are getting.

People view politicians as “selling something,” but not as often as they should. Every four years they come into office promising the most honest, most open administration in history, unlike the previous crowd, but they always end up behaving like the previous crowd. It is well that Congress has only a 12 percent public-approval rating, but disappointing that there are so many “safe” seats one election to the next.

It is because so many politicians behave like unscrupulous salesmen that long election campaigns and aggressive media scrutiny are so important to the public good. Sometimes politicians are selling an amazing cure-all, and sometimes they’re only selling themselves. As voters listening to political assurances, we are often as helpless as an average car owner confronted by a mechanic with our dangerously worn reverberated thingamajig: $2,000 or you will surely die. At least the internet has helped us a great deal in navigating the mysteries of both spheres.

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The leaders of the city of Detroit, both civic and union, told their constituents they would slay the big shots for them and deliver generous benefits free of charge at someone else’s expense for a long retirement after years of high wages. Now the city is bankrupt, but the seats at every level likely are still considered politically safe for the party in power. In 2008, Barack Obama sold himself with a sunny slogan, then in office sold us health insurance reform with the promise of 30 percent more at 25 percent off, or some blowout special like that. New York mayoral candidate Anthony Weiner has been advertising a dinner-plate special of middle-class prosperity, while covering up health violations (as it were).

As much as we like a solid district or state, colored according to our political preferences, a seriously contested election is good not only for the public interest but also for keeping our favorite politicians honest. This is also why a press corps that has become as critical of the political leadership as a tween at a Justin Bieber concert or a cardinal at a papal audience is dangerous to the hopes of any political enthusiast.

D.C. Innes
D.C. Innes

D.C. is associate professor of politics at The King's College in New York City and co-author of Left, Right, and Christ: Evangelical Faith in Politics (Russell Media). Follow D.C. on Twitter @DCInnes1.

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