When I left the University of Arkansas a long time ago without a degree, I moved in with my parents in Tulsa, Oklahoma until I figured out what I wanted to do with my life. After working in the construction trades for a few months, my mom had a friend who was good friends with the Tulsa police chief and she suggested to me that might be something I would want to consider. Before that moment, being a police officer had never entered my mind but it sounded more fun and exciting than digging ditches and carrying pipe so I agreed to do it. There was no compelling notion on my part to protect and serve or give back to the community. It just sounded like a better job than the one I had.
One of the reasons background investigations don't work so well when you're trying to find out who's going to be a good cop and who's not is that you're trying to predict something that hasn't happened yet and that something is how a person is going to react to wearing a uniform, a badge, a sidearm and his or her own personal knowledge that they have almost complete power and control over other people's lives. This is the unknown and it will always remain the unknown. Most police officers come from the lower middle class and below and, because of that, they're not accustomed to having control over anyone, much less practically everyone. That's one of the reasons why some cops go bad. Every year we hear about police scandals, malfeasance in office, corruption, and outright crime perpetrated by the very people who are hired to prevent crime and those not in the business can't understand why this can't be anticipated before the person was hired. It can't be anticipated because there's no way to know how people are going to handle or not handle having so much power, control and ego.
We see the same thing in the political world. This week's edition of Newsweek magazine gives some shocking information about people running for office in the upcoming November election and, although Newsweek doesn't address it directly, it's something I've been thinking about for a long time. Meg Whitman, who is running against Jerry Brown to be governor of California has raised $143 million in her campaign with $122 million of it her OWN money for a job that pays $206,500 a year. That means she would have to serve as governor for 690 years just to break even. She's spending more to become governor of California than Al Gore did to become President of the United States just ten years ago. Linda McMahon, the pro wrestling tycoon, is running for the Senate in Connecticut. Of the $22.1 million she's raised for the campaign, $22 million of it is her own money, for a job that pays $174,000 a year. She would have to serve 126 years to make her money back.
So what's all that about? It's the same thing the police officer encounters; power, influence, control and ego. A lot of people have been elected to state and federal office and left a lot richer than they were when they first took office but I'm not aware of any that left poorer. And what is it that makes a person believe they have the ability to represent the rest of us? What goes on in their head? Even local officials who aren't paid very much still have the ego thing going. When they take the oath of office, they immediately have more power than you and I do because they will be making decisions that affect our lives, just like police officers do.
Occasionally politicians see the corruption and the frustration of the system and decide not to participate any longer, like Nebraska's Chuck Hagel, who chose not to run again for the Senate and now lives a private life with his family. But most who get a taste of power want more. There's an old phrase that says "power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely" and there's more truth than fiction to that statement. The more we get, the more we want. Our psyche depends on it.
Why do politicians take it so hard when they lose? Some become despondent for days and some even go into long-term depression. Because losing means they've lost their power, control and influence and losing it after having it must be a terrible thing to the ego because the people have decided they like someone else better than them. Kinda like when a girl picks the other guy instead of us.
Maybe the very fact that someone WANTS to run for public office should disqualify them from being able to do it.