Why is politician a dirty word in the United States (from a Connecticut perspective)

Politics is generally perceived as governmental affairs. We call our elected officials in a legislative, executive, and in some cases even judicial offices politicians since they entered politics after their wins in democratic elections. These elections make politicians accountable for their political decision making to their constituents who would vote them out of office in case of dissatisfaction with a particular decision or overall. So far so good!

With a political system of checks and balances as the American one is, a governmental tyranny is at best highly unlikely. If it is so, then why is politician a dirty word in the United States? Why are politicians looked down on by the people and are being called crooks, corrupt and the like?

The word politician – especially with the word career in front of it – has become so dirty that some candidates for a political position who have never held one, are using this its acquired meaning to announce to their potential voters that they are not politicians. In the State of Connecticut which I am covering, among them are former Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate Peter Schiff who said so in a debate on March 1 against his opponents for the GOP nomination Linda McMahon and Rob Simmons, and the Republican candidate for state Attorney General Martha Dean who said so on Connecticut Newsmakers at the end of July.

Meanwhile, former Democratic candidate for the U.S. Senate Merrick Alpert used the career politician card several times while he was challenging state Attorney General Richard Blumenthal for the party nomination. Even a current politician – New York Senator Ruben Diaz, Sr. (D – Bronx, Queen, Manhattan, Brooklyn, Staten Island) dared to use the “I am not a politician” rhetoric in the middle of June amid another debate on New York State’s budget problems.

Especially with the unseen anti-incumbent sentiment nowadays, these so called political outsiders – political candidates who have never held a political position – hope that such a message would resonate into more votes for them. Amazing how they are not politicians and pledge not to be politicians when they get elected while they are using the same tactic in elections – the same political rhetoric of promises that the position being sought is capable of implementing.

Moreover, with the existence of checks and balances campaign promises often cannot be fulfilled without the political help of other politicians but this detail is rarely emphasized on in political campaigns, if at all. The candidate for elected office – be it an insider or an outsider (one of the few contexts where the word outsider actually has a positive connotation) – after getting elected for that office will have to make compromises during the decision making process so that they receive support for their agenda in return. Take a look at this analysis for your information: Responsibility. Rosenthal is concerned about the unwillingness of some legislators to make difficult fiscal decisions because of constituent opposition, the growing tendency for committees to fail to screen out bills that lack support or merit and the practice of lawmakers not voting against someone else’s bill for fear that he or she will vote against their own. In other words, you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours.

Back scratching doesn’t occur between only. A quick glance at legislators and their contributors at the U.S. House of Representatives shows that leaders of committees receive most money for their campaigns from the industry that the specific committee may have an influence to. The following is an incomplete list of legislative leaders and their contributors:

The other side of the coin is that such contributions are necessary in a democracy. In the U.S. they are in fact the industries’ and labor unions’ First Amendment rights, and there is no other legal way for them to make their voices heard in these committees and at the floor. However, this side of the coin is rarely considered by the people which is why politician is a dirty word.

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3 Comments

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3 responses to “Why is politician a dirty word in the United States (from a Connecticut perspective)

  1. Interesting points!
    “Politician” and “politics” has indeed acquired a negative connotative meaning. Each word has its denotative/dictionary meaning and its connotative/subjective meaning. The latter can differ among individuals. In this way language shapes the way we think and even feel. It’s not surprising then that many psychologists study the connotative meaning of words and, based on the research, advise public figures what to say and what to strategically omit.
    I wanted to find the actual research (I stumbled upon it a while ago) and share it with you, but no luck so far. Based on this research, ‘politics’ has indeed become a dirty word. I wouldn’t be surprised to see conscious efforts to avoid it in campaigns, etc.

  2. “It’s not surprising then that many psychologists study the connotative meaning of words and, based on the research, advise public figures what to say and what to strategically omit.”

    There are a lot of merits in these studies. Cases in point are the following words: socialism, communism, nazism, fascism, even nationalism because of nazism and fascism which are fractions of nationalism but one can be nationalist without being fascist or nazi at all. These words are often used against political opponents and the opponents – depending on the constituents’ political culture – will make an according effort to refute such accusations. For example, socialism is not as dirty a word in Europe as it is in the United States so efforts to deny advocacy for socialism differ.

  3. Naiden

    Politicians are elected by the majority and have to serve the majority, or in other words, the greater good. Unfortunately, this means that there will always be people, presumably the minority, that don’t like the actions of the elected leader. That’s a given. The problem is that people like to create stereotypes as this is the easiest way to separate good from bad without having to analyze deeply every single individual. Therefore, because of the actions of a few, depending on the country and region, of course (there’s another stereotype :)), the whole profession of the politician is viewed as “immoral” and “dirty”. Another profession that’s often stereotyped comes to mind – car salesman. The problem with this latest vogue is that instead of talking about the issues, politicians (yes, they all are “politicians” indeed) are passionately trying to distance themselves from the very profession they are practicing, or trying to practice. Go figure!

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