Views Columnist Basilia Weir writes on the our current political climate, and why we shouldn’t “stan” politicians.
One of the first things you learn in Modern Studies is your rights and responsibilities as a political citizen. Right: you get to vote. Responsibility: be an informed voter and hold politicians to account. I, like many others, have totally and utterly disregarded that responsibility part in the past.
It’s tough for me to admit, but if you were Facebook friends with me a year or two ago, you would have come across some shared videos of Elizabeth Warren, then presidential candidate, “owning” her opponents and being a bit of a “girl-boss”. The captions would likely contain either the clapping or praying hand emojis, or maybe the pink heart with sparkles. My heart was in the right place – Warren’s policies, like taxing the rich and providing free tuition, reflected my opinions. In fact, I’d credit her for further radicalising me. However, at the time, I wasn’t judging her solely based on her policy or what she’d achieved in her political career. I was idolising this female figure of power who was like a real-life Leslie Knope. This idolatry quite often clouded my vision. When murky details would be revealed about Warren’s past that deserved legitimate scrutiny – such as the time she claimed Native heritage on a State Bar registration form – I would disregard it.
"I was idolising this female figure of power who was like a real-life Leslie Knope."
This is why I warn against “stanning” politicians. They are public servants, elected to serve the people. They are not celebrities. Their job gives them a lot of power, and a lot of responsibility. Treating elected officials as celebrities or influencers to worship, rather than people who work for you and should be held accountable, is a great way to let people off the hook for a) achieving little to no progress on election promises and b) making serious errors. A great example of this is Hillary Clinton.
I can thankfully say I never went through a “Clinton-stan” phase, but many did. There was a phenomenon amongst liberals and girl-boss-feminists in particular that involved by-passing Clinton’s policy platform and political history, solely focussing on her as some sort of patriarchy-ending saviour. The emphasis was less on what she would do for women and girls or what she had done in the past (e.g. her treatment of Monica Lewinsky) and more on the fact that she was a powerful woman wearing pantsuits.
"There was a phenomenon amongst liberals and girl-boss-feminists in particular that involved by-passing Clinton’s policy platform and political history..."
You can see history repeating itself with the likes of AOC: she has inherited the clapping hands and pink heart emojis of Clinton and Warren before her. AOC has some legitimately great policy platforms and she’s really good at her job. However, she’s still a politician - a publicly elected official who is meant to serve her constituents. Whilst I think you can admire her work and her attitude to politics, it needs to stay at that: admiration. We still need to be able to scrutinize and critique her future policy moves. Though, I feel the need to concede that whilst AOC “stans” do exist, the Congresswoman has received immense amounts of criticism from both the right and left.
I am conscious of the fact that I’ve mentioned mainly female, liberal politicians here. This bias comes from having existed mostly in liberal and leftist circles, and therefore being more exposed to the sort of girl-boss, “lean-in” idolatry. That’s not to say that right wing politicians don’t receive the same sort of unnecessary, unwarranted worship. Boris Johnson and Donald Trump are two of the most obvious examples. In Boris’ case, there’s the people who elected him simply because they think he’d be good company at the pub.
Politicians are public servants, not celebrities. When you turn them into two-dimensional icons, you are gamifying politics and neglecting both real-world impacts and the potential harm to marginalised people. I think it’s good to acknowledge when a politician does good work and is excellent at their job, but you can’t do it with stars in your eyes. I implore anyone who “stans” a politician to think critically about how we view and understand politicians, and the serious repercussions of this on our political climate.
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