When I first chose “Political Science major” on my University of Alberta application, I felt butterflies in my stomach. Eighteen-year-old me thought about the great men from Plutarch’s Lives, John F. Kennedy and Winston Churchill. Margaret Mead, Martin Luther King Jr., and Barack Obama also came to mind. When I chose “Political Science major,” I thought about great men and women striving to make a change in this world, and however naïve it sounds, I felt as if I was joining a movement that was bigger than myself – a movement of citizens wanting to make a better world.
Politics is a noble pursuit. I believe that all politicians have their own strong sense of what is good for the people, and strive to provide it for their constituents despite many challenges and stresses resulting from their positions.
The sad thing is that sometimes I need to defend and justify the choice of my studies to others and myself. We live in a society that regards politics with mistrust. Cynicism is accepted amongst political science majors as part of “growing up.” Throughout the university education, idealists run into the wall of reality and, subsequently, cynicism. Sometimes, friends and new acquaintances would speak of politics as a gluttonous pursuit of power and ego-inflating. It hurts me whenever I hear that – for despite its shortcomings, I regard politics as the most noble pursuit that we, political animals, can pursue. But this idea hurts me, because I need to question myself again whether I have faith and conviction about the said belief.
Whenever I get despondent, I grab one of my DVD sets of The West Wing and tune in to the episodes that I have already watched three or four times. The West Wing is a show about White House politics that beautifully depicts the difficulties of pursuing idealism and choosing what is the best for the people. President Bartlet’s selfless devotion to the service of the people and his struggle through the political battlefield highlight the very best of politics. Whenever I’m feeling down – whether it be due to personal matters, academic stress, or disturbing current affairs (e.g. the Westboro Baptist Church) – I just watch The West Wing for hours and hours. When I watch the noble struggle of the Bartlet crew, I realize that there are (real) people dedicating their lives to making this world a better place, and I emerge out of my trivial despondency.
I want more people to know that politics is a noble pursuit. Despite all the “sausage making,” there are so many public servants who are withstanding various difficulties with one goal in their minds: to make this world a better place. I really wish that we had more politicians whom little kids can look up to, and say, “I want to be like Mr. MLA when I grow up and make Edmonton a better place!” Kids should not model themselves after Lindsay Lohan or Kim Kardashian; they should look up to their MPs and MLAs who work tirelessly for their communities.
But the reality is – our politicians are not meeting these standards. When a minister makes a comment about urinating on a bowl of cornflakes and maliciously mocks an academic who tries to defend his job, his colleagues, and his students, we cannot have a society that views politics as a noble pursuit. It is one thing to be passionate about policies and ideas – but ad hominem attacks on individuals simply demonstrates the low standards for politicians that we hold as a society and that politicians match these standards. This should be changed. We need to let them know that they cannot vulgarize politics and that they need to behave according to a higher set of standards.
Regardless, I still believe in the nobleness of politics – or I try to remain optimistic. Persistence is a great virtue, anyways. Well, I am going to watch another episode of The West Wing.
Dongwoo Kim (@dongwookim_) is studying History and Political Science at the University of Alberta.