As fascinating as the LA Times article may be, I am not interested in comparing politicians, American or others, to serial killers. This is largely because I dread that many politicians throughout history actually have done far greater harm to humanity than all of the world's serial killers combined in all of human history. Instead of making the unpleasant comparison between politicians and serial killers, I have compiled my own list that I believe applies to all politicians regardless of ideological orientation.
I am not presenting the following traits as exclusive to politicians, but rather as a reflection of society and what citizens expect and tolerate of their politicians in modern times. In short, I believe that people recognize that politicians in the last analysis are a reflection of the broader society and their traits reflect those of the rest of humanity. This does not mean that all politicians throughout the world have the traits I have listed below, but many, if not most of them do, and that is largely why they are successful in achieving their personal goals.
1. Myth: Politicians are idealistic, driven by high moral principles rooted in social good.
Reality: Politicians are pragmatic, driven by opportunism that often goes against the public good but benefits the politician and a narrow group of people in his/her circle of power.
2. Myth: desire to serve the "public" and to do "good" for all people.
Reality: boundless ambition to accumulate power and wealth along the way by serving the narrow interests of the elites
3. Myth: Passion and hard work for public service and promotion of institutions designed to further the public good.
Reality: Passion to rise as high up the hierarchy as possible and to remain there for as long as possible, always without regard to the public good and often to its detriment.
4. Myth: Confronts crises with truthfulness toward citizens and does not take risks that jeopardize the majority interest to serve narrow interests.
Reality: Blatant lies are at the root of a politician who tries to appear as though he/she is telling the truth while lying in order to harm the public welfare for the benefit of elites that sustain the politician in power. Even worse, the politician tries to cover up or justify the lie when caught by surprise and asked to account for it.
5. Myth: Public accountability. In policy-making, the politician takes into account the welfare of the people and not small interest groups that have powerful ties to the regime.
Reality: Policy making is a process of competing powerful interest groups with access to the regime, and the welfare of society at large is rarely, if ever, an issue. Public accountability is only a factor for the politician's PR machine and not at the root of policy.
6. Myth: Politicians must be able to persuade voters with rational, just, and socially-beneficial policy proposals that would result in the material progress of society and its overall edification. Therefore, politicians sacrifice themselves for society and its interests.
Reality: Politicians must be able propagandists, have an ability to appeal to people's emotions instead of intellect, manipulate public opinion so that the narrow interests the politicians are advancing appear to be one and the same as the interests of society as a whole.
7. Myth: Politicians are patriotic and genuinely have the national interest in making policy.
Reality: Politicians must appear patriotic, convince the public that they genuinely represent the national interest, and that their policies are best for the nation, which equals all people. All of this is at the level of rhetoric, while the reality is that the business, military and other politically powerful elements define patriotism and national interest on behalf of the rest of society.
8. Myth: Politicians must have integrity and honesty, rather than sink into the spiraling hole of telling people what they want to hear for the sake of retaining popularity.
Reality: It is simply impossible to be a politician and have the traits of honesty and integrity, but it is equally difficult to be a successful politician without appearing to have those traits, as Nocolo Machiavelli wrote five centuries ago in THE PRINCE.
9. Myth: Politicians are generally more intelligent than the average person, and they surround themselves with other intelligent people, experts of all sorts to make "the right decisions" for society's benefit.
Reality: In general, politicians are about average intelligence or slightly above. Their IQ as well as their aides have zero relevance to the policies they pursue because those policies are not a reflection of intelligence but of tangible specific interests. The intelligence level of a politician and that of their aides is not particularly as significant as the will to carry out policies that advance social justice. The real driver behind policy is the powerful elites on whose behalf the politicians conduct policy. Intelligence is only important to justify to the public why the government is advancing narrow special interests, and to make those appear as best for society.
10. Myth: A charismatic, self-confident, well-communicating leader that inspires the citizens.
Reality: All of the above are essential for the public to have confidence in their politician, because all such traits are significant to convince the public to vote for the candidate and to further convince citizens that government works for their interests, instead of the interests of the elites. At the same time, the traits stated above are not as important because image-makers create the appearance of charisma, self-confidence, and well-communicating leader.
11. Myth: Politicians rise to the top of the heap because of a merit-based system that he/she supports and tries to advance for all people.
Reality: The only way politicians rise to "the top of the heap" is through some societal mechanism - business, military, political machine - that propels them to the top and then expects them to carry out policies that reflect the interests of those who advanced the politician. Although the politician may have a college degree, speak several languages, and is even a great golfer, merit has nothing to do with the rise to power and sustainability of it. Paying dues to the machinery that propelled the politician to the top is the only criterion that matters.
If these are the traits of politicians, does this mean that people revert to non-civic participation, lapse into cynicism and fatalism, or remain idealistic and try to take matters into their hands? Do we refuse to accept that there is a better system, arguing that Plato was correct to construct The Republic, and utopias exist not in society but inside our own minds? Actually, the common thread is that politicians are arbiters of the social contract. But if socioeconomic, military and political elites have highjacked the social contract, then it is up to citizens to change the system so that it serves them.