Thursday, April 23, 2009

Politics as a Profession

Politics as a Profession
China Times editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
A Translation
April 23, 2009

We once believed politicians saw politics as a calling, in accord with sociologist Max Weber's ideal. Politicians must strike a difficult balance between their ethical convictions and their political constraints. We assumed that even politicians such as Machiavelli, who stopped at nothing and sold his soul to the devil, were acting for the greater good. But over the past several years, we have witnessed Taiwan's politicians amass huge fortunes and act solely for their own self-interest.

Such politicians defy our expectations. Moreover, when politicians openly reveal concern only for their own self-interest, how can we still believe they are qualified to engage in politics, which is everybody's business?

To answer this question, one must take a hard look at this business called politics. In general, the only time one will ever encounter professional politicians is in regions such as mainland China or nations such as the Soviet Union, which were founded by professional revolutionaries. In democratic countries, most politicians are people who have undergone a mid-life career change. The current issue of The Economist calculates that out of 5000 politicians in democracies over the world, most are lawyers and law-related professionals. They constitute nearly 20%. President Barack Obama of the United States and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton are lawyers. Half of all U.S. senators are in law-related professions.

Are lawyers qualified to be politicians? Following the Chen Shui-bian administration, lawyers turned politicians have left society a highly negative image of themselves as people concerned only with procedural technicalities and eager to win at any cost. And yet America's greatest President Abraham Lincoln was a prominent lawyer. In his book "Democracy in America," Alexis de Tocqueville heaped praise upon lawyers for their respect for due process as a means of moderating public passions. .

Second on the list was businessmen. Businessmen turned politicians are even more controversial than lawyers. Take Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, or former President of Thailand Thaksin Shinawatra. Both blurred the line between their private accounts and the national treasury. Thaksin is currently in exile over charges of corruption. Silvio Berlusconi remains immune from prosecution because he is Prime Minister. Their methods of sheltering and expanding their private fortunes, have left a negative image of businessmen turned politicians.

But if one looks at examples at home and abroad, businessmen turned politicians are hardly the only ones who profit by assuming political office. Moreover, businessmen turned politicians are not without merits. South Korean President Lee Myung-bak was once seen as an exemplar of entrepreneurs turned statesmen. Former U.S. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson is typical transplant from Wall Street to Pennsylvania Avenue. In the wake of the financial crisis, a number of figures from the financial sector joined the British Cabinet.

Then there are academics turned politicians. when former President Lee Teng-hui was in office he was praised as Mr. Democracy. Fernando Henrique Cardoso, former President of Brazil, was formerly an academic famous for his theory of interdependence. During his term of office he helped Brazil remake itself and gain international respect. But the performance of academics turned politicians is difficult to predict. Dr. Liu Chao-hsuan's cabinet has been referred to as a "cabinet of professors." Yet its performance has been below expectations.

Lawyers, businessmen, and academics turned politicians once considered politics a mission. But in recent decades a new trend has appeared, politics as a profession. British journalist Peter Oborne's book, "The Triumph of the Political Class," points to think tanks, political consultants, public relations firms, and other quasi-political institutions which have become a reserve of political talent. These people may not have had any other form of work experience. In other words, politics has finally become a profession.

Peter Oborne cites the new British Labor Party as a prime example. If you want to stand out in politics, first, you must express an interest in politics while in school. Second, you must become an aide to a promising politician. Third, if you wish to reach the top, you must breath the same air and drink the same water as politicians at the top. This kind of politics doesn't concern itself with policy, only with marketing. Once in office, anything goes in the struggle for power, utterly indifferent to the perceptions of others.

Does this sound familiar? Everyone from members of the student movement on Taiwan who turned to politics, to Karl Rove, aka "Bush's brain," has taken the same shortcut to the top. This has led to either their own downfall, or their superior becoming the most unpopular president in history.

Every profession has its own code of ethics. But establishing a code of ethics for the "profession of politics" may be difficult. Those who seek political office have only one objective - to win. And after all, it is a zero-sum game. My win is your loss. My political survival means your political death. The new Political Class lives amidst such fierce competition. How can one possibily expect them to behave as professionals? How can one not expect them to degenerate into unprincipled schemers? Many people consider politics a necessary evil. There is no reason to expand this new Political Class.

The plight of Wang Hsueh-feng and numerous other former legislators is sad. But if this inspires us to establish pensions for legislators, it will only attract more unsuitable people. It will also expand the class of political professionals of dubious merit. Perhaps the best approach is to return to the classic model of politics as a mission, in which one enters the field without any expectations of profit.

中國時報  2009.04.23








不論律師、商人還是學者從政,初衷可能是將政治當作一種志業,但近幾十年來的新趨勢,則是「將政治當作一種專業」。英國記者Peter Oborne的《The Triumph of the Political Class》一書,點出智庫、政治顧問、公關公司等「准」政治機構,已成為政治人才的儲備所,這些人不必有任何其他工作經驗,政治終於變成一種專業。

Peter Oborne描述的是以英國新工黨為主的例子,如果你想在政治上出頭,第一步,在校時你就必須凸顯自己對政治的興趣;第二步,你務必要幫一個有前途的政治人物作事;第三步,最後若要登上頂峰,你必須與最能搞政治的人吃在一起,玩在一起。這樣的人從政不管政策內容只管行銷,一旦在位就無所不用其極的爭權奪利,完全無視他人觀感。




No comments: