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Keep the Bums, Toss the System

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CONSIDER the American Civil War: The nature of warfare changed forever. The firepower of armies exceeded the known tactics for combat. Generals still lined up troops and forced them to march headlong into barrages of rifle and cannon fire. When those men died, more were thrown into the same battle, in the same fashion, to the same brutal and ugly end. Now consider: The fate of the modern politician is like that of the Civil War soldier. The politics and problems confronting our government have changed irreversibly. Yet we continue to send waves of politicians to their political deaths, killed by barrages of negative attack ads.

Then we excoriate them if they try to dodge these bullets, ignoring that the politician who does not want to be re-elected is far more dangerous. We hold out conflicting goals for them and denounce them when they fail - ``never raise taxes but spend freely for programs that benefit me'' comes to mind.

But as with the Civil War soldier, the reason so few modern politicians perform laudibly has little to do with courage. Our political system has not kept pace with the times. The system of representative government was designed for a horseback era when elected politicians could vote on a limited number of issues, knowing they could communicate the logic for their decisions at length later in newspapers or in person.

Today's politicians must confront voters, who have an MTV attention span, in 30-second blips. The politician must beg for money to create counter-ads from interest groups who expect a sympathetic ear in return for dollars. Or the politician must be independently wealthy. Just as heroic soldiers who led the charge up the hill were the first to be blasted away, so are courageous politicians who tell truths we don't want to hear. The system, not just politicians, must change.

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