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The True Cost of Campaigning

A student asked me yesterday why John Kerry (“a very smart man”) denied that he owned the Chevrolet Suburban parked in his Ketchum, Idaho, driveway. After saying “I don’t own an SUV,” the presidential candidate explained “”The family has it. I don’t have it.”

Why indeed would an obviously intelligent man utter a remark so palpably absurd?

I have no answer to this specific question. But reflecting on this episode reinforces my long-held belief that a disproportionate number of decent people avoid politics because they cannot stand the thought of behaving in public like clowns and rogues.

Decent people avoid politics not because they have anything to hide; not because raising money is a challenge; and not because they don’t care about the public issues of the day.

Instead, a decent person refuses to split verbal hairs and play the other word games that politicians typically play. A decent person cannot bring himself to pose with countless babies and smile and goo-goo and pretend that there’s nothing in the world that he’d prefer to do than to spend his days kissing infants and toddlers. A decent person refuses to pose as an expert on all issues of the day. A decent person is repulsed by the prospect of pretending, day after day, to care as intensely about the lives and well-being of vast swathes of strangers as he cares about his own life and well-being.

Decent people simply cannot bring themselves to behave in public the way most politicians behave. (Several years ago I made a similar point in a column for the monthly magazine published by the Foundation for Economic Education.)