188.8.131.52 Prioritising the Public Interest
Politicians should be prioritising the public interest rather than helping themselves, their parties, or their friends and donors
The job of politicians is to serve the population well, and one might expect that they would try to do so – both for idealistic reasons and to advance their careers. Unfortunately, though, narrow personal or party interests sometimes conflict with what would be best for the population as a whole – and a politician fails to prioritise the latter:
● Public spending priorities should aim to benefit the whole population. Directing funds towards chosen regions or special interest groups, to help an individual politician to win votes at the next election or to get a bill passed, increases the burden on everybody else. This practice is often referred to as ‘pork barrel politics’, as described earlier (184.108.40.206), and has started to increase again in the US Congress as a result of ruling parties not having enough votes to fulfil their intentions.
● Mitch McConnell was a politician who consistently put the interests of the Republican Party above those of the country, changing his arguments when it was politically opportunist to do so – in what this website described as McConntortions.
● Democratic elections are a contest for power, but party politics should change its character after a government has been formed. Although some politicians would be expected to oppose the government, on the grounds of conflicting ideologies and priorities, they should try to reach agreement with the objective of prioritising the public interest. And the public naturally loses confidence in politicians who are unable to get the job done.
Failures of politicians to negotiate constructively with each other have often damaged America, as listed in a Timeline of U.S. Government Shutdowns.
And party politics was reported as one of the reasons that Theresa May was unable to get agreement for her EU Withdrawal Bill after trying for three years. She failed because “The two big parties have been trying to outmanoeuvre each other on Brexit, and for a long time Brexit has been used by the opposition party as a way of trying to trigger a general election”.
● Politicians should respond to the needs and desires of those they serve – not those who paid the most in donations. The impact of money in politics is reviewed later in this chapter (6.4.5).
● National politicians can be tempted to try to score domestic political points that undermine international relations (220.127.116.11).
The above examples all relate to democracies, but political infighting also happens in authoritarian systems – as reported in a New York Times article: In China, a Rare View of Infighting by Leaders. The legitimacy of any government, authoritarian or democratic, depends on serving the people well.
This page is intended to form part of Edition 4 of the Patterns of Power series of books. An archived copy of it is held at https://www.patternsofpower.org/edition04/6334.htm.