Saying it and doing it

The candidate who promises to change things if he or she is elected often finds saying it and doing it are different things. Sometimes they’re accused of being absorbed by the government instead of changing it.

Charles Babington of the Associated Press wrote a piece the other day that Tea Party candidates are causing some distress among followers back home because they’re kind of looking like regular members of Congress now that they’ve taken office.

Those of us who have heard candidates for decades run for office with promises they would change things don’t find the Tea Party members’ concern unusual. The issue is more likely unrealistic expectations based on the all too common yearning for instant gratification than it is a matter of a new office holder quickly forsaking ideals once they’re in office.
Ideals don’t disappear. They just run into real life.

Candidates seldom campaign on a platform of being one of 435 people–or at the state level of being one of 34 or one of 163. Candidates run as stand-alone figures who can make a difference. Making a difference as a member of a five or ten-member city council or as one of three county commissioners, or being the only county prosecutor is a whole lot easier than being one of 34 or 163, or 435 or 100.

Real life in the elected position exposes the new office-holder to more competing concerns and issues that he or she might have imagined. The new office-holder finds others of equal or greater strength advocating for different approaches. The new office-holder better learn pretty quickly that progress usually comes in small, non-dramatic, steps that constitute small bites of the big apple issues on which they campaigned.

That process of government as “the art of the possible” is often lost upon those who elected the candidate as a reformer. We have seen a number of people go to Washington or come to Jefferson City as crusaders and reformers. Those who learn to work within the system are more likely to make progress toward their ideals than those who refuse to support anything that does not completely match their demands and the demands of those woh put them in office.

Reform is more often evolution than revolution.

Campaigns are a theoretical world. Service is the real world. Missourinet reporters see the difference between the two every two years. The new folks are not so much corrupted by the system as they are turned to realists by it.

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