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The admirable politician

By Ad astra

Look back over items published on The Political Sword over the years and you will see countless pieces that describe the appalling state of politics here and overseas and the disgraceful behaviour of many politicians in our own and other countries. It’s depressing to read of their dishonesty, their self-centeredness, their recurrent disregard for those they are elected to serve, and sometimes even their corruption. The merchants of venality told much of the sorry tale.

What then ought we be able to expect from our politicians? What do you look for in your representatives?

This piece is an attempt to assemble the attributes of the admirable politician. These are my views; you may have others. I will not attempt to identify politicians that exhibit these characteristics, good or bad. You know those who fit the bill.

When I assembled the attributes I thought were necessary, and supplemented them after a Google search, the list extended to over sixty items. To make them more digestible, I have clustered together like items into two major categories.

In deciding which attributes might head the list, I debated whether competence or honesty should, but decided that honesty was paramount.

Honesty, integrity, trustworthiness, sincerity, authenticity, morality.

To me, the admirable politician, above all else, is honest, able to answer a question or make a statement that is true: factually correct, coherent, plausible, authentic, and consistent.

I despise evasion and obfuscation: avoiding the question, answering another question, trying to score a political point, or simply trotting out the party line or parroting the press secretary’s daily blurb. I want politicians who can say ‘Yes’ or No’, not ‘Let me put it this way’ or ‘Let me make this point’, or skirt around the question with a babble of words that are so often code for ‘I don’t want to answer the question’.

I want them to think before they speak, and I want them to be consistent, so that an answer at one time accords with the answer given previously. If a previous answer was incorrect, or misleading, or incomplete, I want them to concede that this was so and offer a correction, even an apology. It is agonizing watching politicians squirm when avoiding the reality that they were wrong, twisting themselves into knots trying to retreat from erroneous statements. They appear foolish, but seem unaware of how silly they look.

I yearn for politicians who are moral, decent, sincere, straightforward, genuine and compassionate. The public will forgive them if they slip up or make a mistake so long as they acknowledge their error. There are few words that are as disarming as ‘sorry’ or ‘I apologize’, yet most politicians choke on them. I want too politicians who can forgive others who may have wronged them.

Recent events have exposed grave flaws, dishonesty, deviousness, selfishness, and at times corruption, even among senior politicians. Some have been forced out of their positions; yet still seek to claw their way back to the lucrative life of a federal politician. You know who they are.

Decent politicians give credit when credit is due, but too many recurrently display adversarial behaviour in their remarks and in their attitude. This antagonistic approach bedevils our political system – where one’s opponents’ white is always painted as black, where their actions are always portrayed as wrong or foolish or damaging or incompetent or stupid, or the cause of calamity. It is incomprehensible that one side could always be wrong while the other is faultless, yet that is what political parties want us to believe. Listen to their comments when significant public pronouncements are made, or when election talk is in the air. They can always delve into history to score political points and ‘prove’ that their opponent is to blame for everything that is not perfect, even when improvement has already occurred.

Isn’t it nice when a politician acknowledges that an opponent is right, or has a good idea that will be supported! Yet the opposite usually applies. We yearn for collaboration among our politicians so that the best thinking and the most innovative ideas can be applied to our nation’s problems. We are tired of the bellicose antagonism that crosses the chamber at Question Time, the raucously aggressive attacks that each makes on the other, the rabble-rousing more fitting for a partisan football crowd, the malicious questions, the belligerent replies, the saccharine ‘Dorothy Dixers’ and the nauseating responses. Don’t they realize how much we despise this behaviour?

Let’s look now at the intellectual attributes and qualities of the admirable politician:

Competence, intelligence, relevant knowledge, communication skills, leadership qualities, fairness, caring attitude. 

We all want competent politicians. Who would want an incompetent one, no matter how nice? Yet we see people elected to parliament who are pig ignorant or just ill-informed, ready to deny scientifically established facts, often governed by unbefitting but deeply entrenched ideas, incompetent in their political work, and at times simply stupid.

Apart from these extreme misfits, there are others that harbour extraordinary ideas, have eccentric beliefs, are captive to the unshakable ideologies of their mentors, or who represent fringe groups who seek to impose their ideas on all others.

More sinisterly, there are those who push their ideological notions because it suits them politically, not because they are proven to be correct. We notice this most strikingly in the realm of economics and budget creation, where the economic rationale for the proposed measures too often flies in the face of long-established evidence to the contrary, where the measures seem to be fashioned to suit supporters rather than the common good.

I want intelligent politicians who are knowledgeable about politics, world events, the law, the constitution and the tenets of democracy, that have read and travelled widely, who understand political systems, who are able to anticipate events, and who have reliable instincts, a strong character, a stable temperament, and cool judgement.

I value politicians who are capable of researching issues, analyzing situations and solving problems in their electorate and the nation, who have strategic and tactical thinking ability, who can listen and learn, who recognize and accept sound advice, who are goal oriented, value driven, caring, and focused on the important issues.

I want politicians who understand local and national issues, who can write cogently, who can speak coherently and persuasively to a variety of audiences, and who can use social media capably. I despise those who seek to blame the media for their difficulties; I deplore those who cannot accept media criticism, who seek to close down media dissent.

In summary, I admire politicians that are confident, strong, focused, energetic, determined, well read, thoroughly informed, thoughtful, innovative, flexible, adaptable, and able to change their mind when the facts change.

Since Australians traditionally value fairness and ‘the fair go’, I admire politicians who have the pursuit of fairness, equality of opportunity and reward for effort, and social justice for all as the motivation that drives all their actions. I want politicians who always focus on the common good. I admire those who have pride in their country yet are not nationalistic.

The essential ability to relate comfortably to electors and communicate articulately with them, community leaders and colleagues, is grounded in the admirable politician’s background. I want politicians to have had a sound education, preferably at a tertiary level, including tutoring in public speaking, followed by life experience in an occupation outside of politics, where the opportunities and travails of ordinary people can be experienced and shared. I deplore the now common path of many new politicians: via posts as political apparatchiks within their party. This narrow exposure entrenches party tenets and dogma that militate against alternative thinking.

Management and organizational skills, crisis management ability, conflict resolution, interpersonal and networking abilities, and political marketing skills are essential for politicians in their electorates, in parliament and during committee work. Those who have responsibility for portfolios that require international liaison need sound knowledge about international affairs and the skill of interacting with those from different countries and cultures.

Those involved with immigration need empathy towards those seeking citizenship or asylum in our country. They need to extend a welcoming arm to them as they settle into their adopted country. The nasty, punitive attitude that seems to be the norm among many politicians involved in immigration needs radical change if we are to restore our reputation as a multicultural nation, touted repeatedly as ‘the most successful in the world’, one that has benefitted greatly from immigration. We need to be seen as a country that welcomes and values additions from a variety of overseas countries. Nationalism and white supremacist attitudes are counter-productive, yet still raise their ugly heads, even in our own country.

To succeed in our political milieu, politicians need to be charming and uncomplicated, energetic, devoted to their electorate, willing to make personal sacrifices to serve their people, and courageous, even fearless when making unpopular decisions that serve the common people and the nation as a whole.

Finally, wouldn’t it be gratifying to see selfless leadership that always puts the common good ahead of individual or party goals? How often do we see the common good sacrificed on the altar of entrenched ideology, sponsor advantage, electoral gain, or one-upmanship? The people are ignored so that the party and the individual politician can prosper.

Is the expectation that our politicians exhibit these desirable attributes an impossible dream? Could any politician display them all, or even the majority?

Whatever your answer, ask yourself: Is it unreasonable to expect those who make crucial decisions about our welfare and security, and are well-rewarded for it, are equipped with the necessary qualities? Leave your answer in Comments.

Whatever you think, I’m sure you will agree that the admirable politician as described here, is indeed to be admired.

This article was originally published on The Political Sword.

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20 comments

  1. Robert

    you could use this as a brief for a programmer I welcome the day when politicians are replaced ,or outsourced.

  2. helvityni

    Keep dreaming Ad Astra.

    Looking at the Anglo world and their leaders, I have to say that at the moment I envy NZ and Canada. ( I will not refer to the Nordic countries for once in fear of expulsion…. only kidding )

  3. Godwin

    It’s funny how Old Turncoat turns to the working class lingo of the of the early 20th century when challenged on his windfall in the recent tax cuts.Reponses to Labor charge, like what’s wrong with “Making A Quid”? or Having a Go,

    Gee “Flaming Struth mate” Fair Dinkum Mate he’s a bottler mate, a dinky di Aussie if I have ever seen one. Stone the bloody crows mate, get off his back mate.This poor bloke works hard to make a Quid .He’d make Bluey and Curly proud; Fair Bloody Dinkum Mate.

  4. Kaye Lee

    Lucy and I have worked hard to amass our fortune…..

    Tell that to a nurse or a roof tiler or a childcare worker or a gardener or a paramedic or a teacher or a police officer.

    Tell that to the people not born into privilege and backed by daddy’s contacts and the old school tie network.

    Tell that to the people who cannot claim recompense for every expense they incur including family holidays, trips to the football finals, limousines to the opera and accomodation allowance for staying in their own investment property.

  5. Matters Not

    If politicians were honest, the answer to the vast majority of questions would be – I don’t really know. I can’t be sure. etc

    But one wonders what would happen to politicians who admitted a lack of knowledge or a lack of certainty. Unfortunately, most people expect politicians to know even when the future is so uncertain.

    Perhaps much of our problem is of our own making? The real enemy may be us. What with our inflated expectations, our inability to live with uncertainty and our desperation to grasp at straws.

  6. Kaye Lee

    MN,

    I have always said to my family, tell me the truth and we can sort it out.

    Politicians cannot be experts on everything but they CAN tap into the expert knowledge of all of us if they just tell the truth. I learned very early on in my teaching to career to be honest with my students. If they asked a question I couldn’t answer, depending on what it was, I would either ask for time to get back to them or make it a group exercise to find the answer. You can’t fudge it with maths and shouldn’t try. When I was occasionally forced to teach other subjects, I felt the same way. I also want to know the facts so why even try to pretend you know when you don’t.

    But politicians aren’t interested in facts which is why they employ so many people in their offices nowadays instead of being advised by their departments. It’s all about the spin.

  7. Matters Not

    Re:

    instead of being advised by their departments

    Yep. Departmental advice, generally speaking, contains too many ‘if’s’, ‘buts’ and ‘maybes’ which isn’t valuable or useful for a politician who is expected to know now – even when the one true answer is unknowable now and indeed may be unknowable in the foreseeable future – if ever.

    Successful public servants must understand the pressures faced by Ministers and provide them with escape answers (when possible) for unknowable outcomes. Nevertheless I return to the point raised earlier – we can be the problem – with our reluctance to accept anything but a definitive answer.

  8. Kaye Lee

    But surely that is the whole point of politicians – to understand the problem and to evaluate the pros and cons of different courses of action, to consider the uncertainties and be flexible enough to adapt to changing circumstances.

    Life decisions do not have definitive answers. They always involve choice. Then refinement and adjustment or adaptation. One big problem with the government is, having made a choice on direction, there is then a lack of any real evaluation. Or even when there is evaluation, the findings are ignored. The direction has been chosen and must be pursued and promoted.

  9. astra5

    Folks

    May I thank you all for your helpful comments!

    I enjoyed your return to good old-fashioned Aussie lingo Godwin – struth, why can’t politicians speak proper!

    Kaye, our esteemed PM is an expert on working hard for all he’s got – just think how hard it must have been for him to acquire his four-storeyed harbour-side mansion in Point Piper with its own boatshed and wharf!

    As for ordinary people – what would they know about hard work! What’s more, they certainly don’t deserve all those ridiculous penalty rates that make it so hard for coffee shops to make a buck. They should be happy just having a temporary job, even if underpaid, or not paid at all!

    If we used the specifications in this piece to outsource the work of politicians, I wonder how many (apart from Donald Trump) would be arrogant enough to apply? Given the ego of so many aspirants, perhaps more than we might expect!

    You may be right Matters Not when you write: “Perhaps much of our problem is of our own making?” Several commentators have concluded that the reason that Trump was elected, and may be re-elected, is that his supporters see him as a reflection of themselves. He embodies the very attitudes and values they harbour. If you watched Miriam Margolyes’ tour of the US on ABC TV you would have heard this from their own mouths. The same could apply here!

    helvityni, I do keep dreaming – silly old me!

  10. John lord

    I could not agree more with the sentiments of the writer.

  11. Diane Larsen

    Totally agree with this article and find it difficult to find understand why these tossers are not held to account, so many opportunities to ask hard questions and not be fobbed off with drivel and untruths but the circus just goes on and on. Have stopped watching question time, the 7.30 report and only record insiders so I can fast forward most of the interviews which are not interviews but thinly disguised propaganda, just a sad state of affairs.

  12. Godwin

    astra5 He’s just a hypocrite and not the genuine article.He’s full of shit our Prime Minister.

  13. Matters Not

    astra5, re Miriam Margolyes’ tour of the US, for me, in-depth shows of this type is reason enough for the continued funding of the ABC and SBS. That an overweight, aged, lesbian Jewish woman (Jewess in times gone by – see below) could provide such insights was truly remarkable. While one wonders what the ratings looked like, it’s probably the case this documentary would never be shown in Australia if it wasn’t for the public broadcaster(s).

    https://www.tabletmag.com/scroll/204697/is-it-cool-to-say-jewess

    While it’s a sad, sad world we live in (my view), the diversity of views and the way different people construct their own realities is mind blowing. What with 12 kids and still counting – provided there’s no knock on the door. LOL.

  14. wam

    Yes or no is honest unless the question is of the ‘have you stopped beating your wife’ type. The standard of questioner makes context important. The standard for autocue journalists is reading and never listening to the answer. The standard for other journalists is repeating the question without listening to the answer or not listening to the answer whilst mind rehearsing the next question.
    Honesty, with such dishonesty in the media, is risky. Recorded interviews with disingenuous editing can be viral and impossible to correct. Simple slogans that generalise often require complex explanations to debunk.

    We are all competent at some things and incompetent at others is obvious. To cater for this the westminister system relies on cooperative decision making. The individual is diminished (except where there is a minority government)
    eg:
    Is Dutton incompetent, competent, successful or excellent at his job?

    The danger to Australia is the narrow life and work experience of career politicians. Private church school education, university degree, political office position and party selection as candidate.
    Did anyone else wonder how joe bullock was chosen as number one for the WA senate?

    I like question time and dorothy dixers are necessary to balance ‘opposition’.

    In modern time bi-partisan decisions are difficult because the discipline within the parties is too tenuous for trust. eg 2009 carbon plan by turnbull and wong went with the rabbott and the greens.

    The strength of politics is the background diversity of politicians, the discipline in party room and the honesty of the media.

    The weakness is the selection process that favours:

    “Private church school education, university degree, political office position’ as their candidate.

    There are vicious cycles, that need to be broken, every where.

    ps Are we rich? Is jack, the standard voter, alright?

  15. townsvilleblog

    Yet another tremendous article by another tremendous writer for the A.I.M Network.

  16. Ad Astra

    Folks
    Again, I thank you all for your informative contribution to this piece.

    You are right wam, the media and many of the so-called journalists that swarm like wasps in it are responsible for much of the obfuscation we see coming from the mouths of politicians. These creatures come infested with questions designed to trick, confuse, humiliate, catch out, demean and outwit their target, hoping desperately for a ‘gotcha’ moment that will feature in the news bulletins, hoping for a little kudos, hoping that their shoddy reputations will look a little less tarnished. Reflect on how long Mark Riley lived off his gotcha moment with Tony Abbott.

    Politicians are aware that they are the prey, aware that they are being tested and tricked into unwise utterances. They therefore turn themselves inside out trying to avoid losing the battle of wits in which they find themselves engaged, often unwillingly, every day. What a different scene it would be if journalists and politicians were able to behave less like combatants and more like collaborators intent on informing the public accurately and honestly. I understand Diane Larson why you turn off political programmes. Many do the same.

    Matters Not, I enjoyed reading Mark Oppenheimer’s article.

    Agree Godwin.

    John Lord and townsvilleblog, it is complimentary comments such as yours that give we writers heart and encouragement. Thank you.

  17. Zathras

    As well as honesty and fairness, a true sense of empathy would not go astray in a leader.

    The ability to unite people rather than encouraging society to fracture into warring tribal groups as a political strategy for distraction is also essential.

    The best seem to lead from the front rather than push from the rear.

    Unfortunately in a flawed, self-serving and class-obsessed system of government, we have flawed representatives and not the other way round.

  18. Ad Astra

    Zathras

    How right you are. Empathy in the political sphere is rare. Yet it is a crucially important attribute that separates the admirable politician from the also-rans.

    As you point out: “Unfortunately in a flawed, self-serving and class-obsessed system of government, we have flawed representatives…”

  19. Kyran

    “This piece is an attempt to assemble the attributes of the admirable politician.”
    As Sir Humphrey was want to say, “Ambitious, sir. Ambitious.” There appears to be a consensus on the attributes of an admirable politician and, as other cynics have noted, the likelihood is the next obvious consideration.
    Back in high school maths, there was a whole term devoted to ‘gambling’ as a mathematical exercise. Delving into the combinations and permutations to calculate the exponential nature of varying risks in order to determine the probability of any given outcome.
    Which is all well and good. Some wag posted one of those ‘meme’ thingy’s that provided the most incisive and concise summary possible in language that even a horny adolescent would understand in a real demonstration of the probability of getting an admirable politician.
    “Politicians are like sperm. Only one in a million turn out to be an actual human.”
    I think it’s for that reason they had to drop the bar so low. We would be satisfied with an actual human, and you want to raise the bar to an admirable human.
    Ambitious, Sir. Ambitious.
    Thank you Ad astra and commenters. Take care

  20. Ad Astra

    Kyran

    Well said, Sir!

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