Saturday, October 15, 2005

the best politicians are the ones not elected

Here's an email I wrote before the 2003 elections. Elections aren't that far away, and this message is very important to keep in mind.


I think people have a tendency to idolize prepoliticians. In this sense there is no real difference between Ehud Barak, Amnon Lipkin Shahak, Shaul Mofaz and Moshe Feiglin.

For example, look at the two leaders of Zo Artzeinu from the mid-90s: Moshe Feiglin and Rav Benny Elon. Both were strong ideologues - and I'm sure if you asked anyone then which one was likely to change the country, Elon would have been the more likely candidate.

Elon was elected to the Knesset, and while in opposition was still able to seem like a strong ideologue. Then his party joined the government, but he was still an MK, allowed to say what he wanted. After he became a minister, people accused him of selling out, of sitting with Labor, especially when it seemed like he was using political tricks to keep his seat.

Similar things can be said about other politicians - Rechavam Zeevi z"l, Effie Eitam, Avigdor Lieberman, Netanyahu, etc. All were popular in the "right wing camp" before they were elected, but berated by the pure ideologues after they entered the government and sat at the cabinet table.

While some of this can be attributed to the idea that power corrupts, or only corrupt people are attracted to politics, I don't think this is always such a negative concept. As the Prime Minister says, "What you see from here you don't see from there." Or as R.A. Butler said, "Politics is the art of the possible." Matzui over Ratzui, and so on. Ideals are important as goals, but they can't be the litmus test of a politician, because people want conflicting things, and it is up to the politician to sort them out. For example, if they had national referendums on whether public funding should be increased on education, on whether taxes should be reduced, and whether the deficit should be cut, all would likely pass. It is up to the politicians to decide how to balance conflicting desires. This is true in a quiet country - all the more so in a country like Israel, where every side feels that the fate of the country hangs in the balance. Israeli politicians have to make difficult decisions that we, the public, don't really need to make.

If Benny Elon sat with Shimon Peres, it is not because he sold out. It is because he had to weigh the importance of national unity against the importance of allowing some of the Left's ideas to be heard and even implemented.

Here's my prediction. If Moshe Feiglin makes it into the Knesset (I'm not sure that will happen), he'll already compromise a bit. He'll want to be on committees, etc, so he'll bend a bit. If he ever makes it to a ministerial position, he won't be the pure idealist that many of you view him as now. And that won't be a bad thing. He'll be a politician - the exact thing every person running for election is. Don't be surprised or disappointed.