Why Good Elected Officials Go Bad

A few months ago, a crew from New Jersey was recording a college campus video in my office. I am a Constitutionally, Conservative Republican, so when the interviewer asked me a question that seemed like it would have a self-evident answer she was surprised when I threw her a curveball.

She asked, “Commissioner Rothschild, would you encourage young college Republicans to consider running for public office?”

“No,” I responded, “Unless they answer the following questions correctly: First, are they committed to upholding the Constitution? Second, can they handle not being liked?”

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“What do you mean?” she asked.

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“Well,” I said. “People that are amiable and have a strong need to be liked do not necessarily make good conservative elected officials.”

You see, everyone that comes before a governing body inevitably wants money for something that they deem important: Money for social programs; Money for infrastructure; Money for Public Safety; Money for Veterans; Money for Libraries; Money for Schools, etc.

Furthermore, in the world of government, special interests judge you based on whether or not you “support” their mission. And, unfortunately, “support” is not measured by principles; nor is it measured by empathy. In the stark world of government, it is measured in dollars.

Akin to rats in a cage that learn to push a lever for a pellet of food, most newly elected officials quickly learn they can buy accolades from members of various groups or unions simply by giving them what they want: Money.

They also learn they can buy support from the liberal media by supporting the same liberal causes embraced by the liberal media.

In my three short years in office, I’ve witnessed this anomaly in action. Commissioner John Doe cares about education…[he gives us money]. Commissioner John Doe cares about our hard working employees… [he gives us money].

Never mind the fact that increased spending levels today could force us to layoff fifty people next year if revenues fall short.

Never mind the fact that salary increases we give today could force us to raise taxes on struggling taxpayers next year.

So here’s the rub… People with a compulsive need to be liked do not know how to say, “NO.” They inevitably allow spending and the size of government to trend upward.

Here’s another rub. The media is overwhelmingly liberal. People with a compulsive need to be admired inevitably start fine-tuning their decisions in an effort to be praised by the liberal media. Once this happens, the official is no longer leading with principles. Instead, he/she is being led by an unprincipled liberal editor.

I’ve asked my wife, “I wonder how long a principled man or woman can stay in office before they are eventually corrupted by political pressures?”

After months of reflecting on this, I’ve come to realize that, like most difficult issues, the answer is readily available within the bible.

Matthew 6:24:  “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.”

This same principle applies in politics to both politicians and constituents.

No elected official can serve two masters. The decisions almost always boil down to Politics vs. Principles. I’ve watched good officials go bad, and have concluded it is impossible to uphold conservative convictions over the long run unless you hold yourself accountable to both the Constitution and Christ-like principles during decision making processes.

Of course, it would be unfair to place all of the blame on elected officials. The same pernicious problem affects constituents.

John Adams said, “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people.” The implications of his pronouncement are profound. Expedient citizens evaluate their officials by what they give them. Good and moral citizens evaluate their elected officials based on their adherence to sound principles.

With every policy and every decision, each elected official and each constituent must decide what they value most… Politics or Principles.

Last year, during a debate on funding, I received a revealing email from a teacher. It threatened, “Commissioner Rothschild… If you want to do what’s best for your political career, you’ll give us the extra funding we demand.”

I walked up to the podium in front of hundreds of jeering government employees, read the email aloud and told the audience, “I am now ready to respond to this email. You see, my job is NOT to do what is best for my political career. My job is to uphold the constitution and manage this county in a fiscally responsible manner. And, suffice it to say, the reason our country is buried in $16 Trillion in debt, and the reason this county is buried in $300 million of debt is because politicians before me made GREAT CAREER DECISIONS.”

The crowd jeered again, and an unidentifiable voice in the audience, yelled, “WHAT’S DEBT?” …apparently reflecting the liberal perspective that debt is just an artificial concept of no real concern.

It’s been nearly a year since that fitful evening. However, God willing, I pray I will never regret the way I handled myself. But, it does highlight the pressures that cause too many elected officials to go bad. It would have been so much more politically expedient to simply say, “I agree” to the audience.

People get the government they demand and deserve.

In his first inaugural address, George Washington said, “The propitious smiles of Heaven can never be expected on a nation that disregards the eternal rules of order and right, which Heaven itself has ordained.”

Now, more than ever, I am convinced the only way to ensure Principles will trump Politics is to return to the timeless question: What would Jesus do?

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