Many of us believe that, at the core, people are driven to run for public office because of a thirst for power, prestige, and misguided vanity bordering on self-delusion. The German philosopher, Max Weber, once wrote for these politicians: "The sin against the lofty spirit of his vocation begins where this striving for power ceases to be objective and becomes purely personal self-intoxication, instead of exclusively entering the service of 'the cause.'"
These are unquestionably part of every politician's DNA. However, my experience is that in most cases at least, it is a very small part. The pre-eminent qualities for the politician are passion, a feeling of responsibility, and a sense of proportion, as Weber suggested.
A cynicism has seeped into our political culture that is blinding us to the nobility of elected public office and those with a genuine calling to serve. As citizens, we should reflect on the central part we play in the corrosive undermining of our democracy.
We've come to think of politicians as somehow a lesser species. More often than not, they are subject of ceaseless ridicule. Sometimes that is perfectly deserved, but mostly it's not.
Fuelled and often informed by a media that is far more interested in the contest than the content, we've come to view the political process and its practitioners as being entirely divorced from our reality. That is a largely unfair characterization. They certainly do represent different points of view and have varying levels of skill and competence. Most politicians do try their best to serve us because doing anything less is self-destructive.
The great irony is that we have become scornful of the very people whose mission it is to advance our collective well-being. Are politicians "only in it for themselves," to paraphrase the devastating and ridiculous personal attack ad on Michael Ignatieff? No they are not. Not even close. Our negative perceptions of politicians and the political process are ultimately at variance with our own self-interest.
A great majority of politicians have entered the arena because they care. Theirs is a profound desire to serve. They possess great pride in doing so in the elected councils of our democracy. When I ran last year, I was bursting with pride at the honour of even possibly sitting in the House of Commons, despite the fact that the campaign process itself was a less than honourable one, and usually rather demeaning.
Still, given the corrosive political age we are in, it's really difficult for some of us to comprehend why good people would sacrifice so much time away from their loved ones for an extended period of time. The life of a politician typically requires that you get used to being a human punching bag. You must feign indifference when scorned by the media and pretend to be impervious to hurtful insults and bullying by political opponents.
There's nothing remotely glamorous about any of it, unless you like seeing your name in the paper for that $8 scotch and soda hotel mini-bar charge. Of course, that well-deserved drink came after you put in a grueling 18-hour day on behalf of the people.
Which brings me to the race to become the leader of the Liberal Party of Canada. By my count, there are seven confirmed and potential candidates for the job that is, we can all agree, hardly a coveted one. That hasn't stopped these remarkable people from putting their lives on hold for six months and longer to try to get it. They are risking their professional standing, reputation, and financial stability -- not to mention the relationships with those they love the most.
Every one of these people is serious, accomplished, and sincere. They are business people, entrepreneurs, military officers, prosecutors, economists, teachers, and even an astronaut.
With the exception of the teacher and the astronaut, none have a national - or any - profile. That doesn't matter. What we owe these public servants is the respect of a meaningful hearing. All bring unique attributes and perspectives to our national conversation.
These aren't party hacks. Not a one. These are serious and dedicated people who love Canada and want to serve. They deserve our encouragement, attention, and also our admiration, respect, and thanks. They certainly have mine.