Saturday, July 31, 2010

political antibiotics

I saw a sign recently that had echoed the recurring theme of "throw the bums out" ,referring to Congress (and perhaps local and state officeholders as well) . There is a sentiment in our country that if we just "clean house" that somehow things will get better and our problems will disappear.It is usually accompanied by cries of "career/professional politician" directed at incumbents at election time, used to attack them as unworthy of the office.

Somehow people think that experience in a job is a bad thing, if the office is elective. And that inexperience or amateur status is to be preferred. Now, there is something to be said for a fresh perspective unfettered by habit and routine. And long tenure in any position does not guarantee competence. But to blindly toss out all incumbents without careful examination is like emptying a fridge into the garbage to eliminate bad odors. You end up with a clean appliance but go have to check each item and only toss out the bad stuff.

Or, to use an analogy that popped into my head recently. It's like antibiotics. For quite a while doctors regularly prescribed antibiotics for sick patients exhibiting symptoms of infection. They worked quickly and seemed to solve the problem for both patient and doctor. More recently this has changed and doctors are more reluctant to prescribe them, though many patients do not seem to understand and still request them.

There are three reasons. One is that some bugs have begun to develop resistance to the usual drugs, including antibiotics. Another is that only bacterial infection can be treated by antibiotic, and some bugs are viral. And the third factor is that our bodies contain both good and bad bacteria but the antibiotics don't distinguish between the two. It kills both, and in the process weakens the immune system, making it vulnerable to other illnesses.

I believe this is true with Congress and other representative assemblies. There are, to be sure, bad apples that need to be removed. But we must distinguish between the good and the bad and not generalize to our own detriment. If we are not careful we may get worse "bugs",get no fix of problems because we trade (elect) one bad bug for another, or we weaken the whole system of government because we have elected a whole bunch of well-meaning but untested rookies who don't know how to use the system to best benefit us, while tossing out proven problem solvers due to guilt-by-association.

Please, think before you vote.

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