OPINION: Career politicians pose a problem for the American democratic system

The Congressional Research Service recently determined that 170 members of the House and 60 members of the Senate were once lawyers. (Photo courtesy of Andy Withers, Flickr)
The Congressional Research Service recently determined that 170 members of the House and 60 members of the Senate were once lawyers. (Photo courtesy of Andy Withers, Flickr)

One of the things about Mason that I have always enjoyed is the political activity and enthusiasm of its students. Though Mason’s proximity to Washington D.C. may be a cause for this involvement, I also believe that a lot of it has to do with the students and faculty alike—they are passionate about politics, protecting their values and promoting the issues that they find important. GMU has a thriving student population of which many members are majoring in government and international politics. Some of them, although pursuing majors in other fields, also intend to work for the government. I am included in the latter population; however, one of the things I have commonly heard on campus terrifies me greatly: “When I finish school, I want to be a politician.”

I commonly hear that statement out of the mouths of our wonderful, government-majoring brethren. To their credit, many of them would make fantastic politicians. However, many of these same people are condemning the incumbent, corrupt and perhaps uncaring officials who have spent their whole lives and careers running for office. Critics say that current officials have no outside experience to bring to their constituents, only knowing how to manipulate the governmental system and voters so that polls lean in their favor.

Essentially, many of our current politicians are serving in--or at least aspiring to serve in--some of the most important government positions in the United States. These individuals sometimes come into the political world with little to no background experience, except basic knowledge of the American government. Many current and aspiring politicians went to law school and, therefore, have little economic experience, and negligible foreign affairs experience. Because of these shortcomings, many politicians are criticized as being useless to the American people and are deemed “unqualified.” However, I fear that this nation has a whole new generation of college students ready to take their place. This new generation of aspiring politicians is concerning because, if some of our Mason students’ political aspirations are achieved, which is certainly likely with our driven and passionate student population, they may eventually become the same thing that they condemn. Students are quick to condemn politicians for their solely political backgrounds and little experience in other fields, but many of our own students are creating their own resumes that are very similar to the ones they ostracize. This unacknowledged similarity is a devastating hypocrisy that explains why so much is wrong with our current political system, and a whole new generation of unqualified perpetrators can be seen coming right out of Mason and colleges all over the nation.

Qualifications for office should come in the form of expertise in the area in which a politician works. It only makes sense for politicians to have worked in the specific areas in which they legislate. For example, a member of the Committee on Science should have a background in research or other scientific fields rather than a background in law. Instead, we see politicians simply take their party’s stance on issues as recommended by their advisors. I believe this system contributes to the polarization of American political parties and is, therefore, quite problematic.

The electorate should represent the people. Policeman, doctors, scientists, botanists, gym teachers and countless other average Joes all specialize in certain areas, and no one knows their line of work better than they do. If someone has worked in a field for so long that they have learned all of the tricks and tips, are they not the most qualified individuals to make decisions about their own careers?  

Politically motivated Mason students are capable of making a great difference, but are probably better off not aiming their careers specifically to politics. Instead, students should aim at learning valuable skills and furthering their knowledge of subjects which interest them. If, by chance, they do go into politics, hopefully their expertise will come in handy and they can use their education to make reasonable and responsible choices for the American people. 

Opinions expressed in this column are solely the beliefs of the writer. 

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