Opinion, Political Column

Dever: Politicians, accountability, and the job of the citizen

As citizens of the United States, we’re not strangers to broken promises, whether these promises come from family or friends, employers or employees, or even our social organizers and political leaders.

With family and friends, there is a certain measure of choice when it comes to being in the relationship, or allowing them to have a say in your life. With employers, one can quit and find a new job; with employees, one can fire a person who doesn’t do their job. With government officials, however, we find something so enormously complex and daunting in that we cannot simply run away from them entirely, or fire them, or chastise them in the normal way.

When politicians promise to do something, especially during debates leading up to the election season, we expect them to follow through on these commitments. After all, we vote based on their proposed solutions to problems that we believe to be important or vital to the country’s well-being. All too often after a politician is elected, these promises are forgotten, pushed under the rug, and ultimately broken.

We have a number of examples of broken promises in the current presidential administration, such as the end of the Afghanistan war, the closing of the Guantanamo Bay detention camp, and a way for undocumented immigrants to obtain citizenship. Why do these broken promises happen? Can we still have faith in our political system without becoming cynical when it comes to the dysfunctions?

The answer, like the problem itself, is a complicated one. Politicians are people, and people make mistakes and say things they can’t always live up to. Of course, many people would certainly say that politicians should be held to a higher standard due to their office, and these people would be right. Politicians are inherently responsible for more people than those in most other jobs, and that shouldn’t be taken lightly. Politicians have hard and not necessarily glamorous jobs. They have an obligation to serve and sacrifice for those they’re leading.

There is a pervading belief among the people, especially younger people, that politicians are all corrupt, dishonest, and selfish.

This thinking does little but alienate those younger generations from the political system they are in. No one has a right to complain about the political system unless they understand it first; no one has a right to judge unless they are involved. The United States was built on the principle that the people will govern themselves, and that requires tangible action, not indifference or uninformed irritability. The political climate is not a representation of the system itself; it is a representation of the hearts and minds of the people who vote.

Change takes more than voting at the polls once every four years and thinking that everything will be okay. Change takes deliberate action before and after a candidate is elected. This is done through volunteering and being a presence on the local level, community outreach, speaking to representatives, and campaign work. One person will not make a difference if their voice is internal; many people will make a difference if their voices are external. Politicians are people, no greater or lesser than you. Their accountability is your responsibility.