You probably know politicians rank even lower in the publicâ€™s esteem than used-car salesmen. Becoming a politician, you accept the idea that itâ€™s a very nasty job, but somebody must do it.
In the bigger world of politics, you may choose between two professional career paths. If you seek lifelong employment in public service, you will develop command of public policy, public administration, and criminal justice. If, on the other hand, you aspire to a place in the corridors of power, your college and graduate school studies will refine your command of power-dynamics. Either way, you inevitably will become intimate with Thomas Jefferson and Karl Marx, and you will develop power writing and speaking skills. Whether or not they have been attorneys, most elected officials have thorough grounding in the law; most government professionals have exceptional command of business practices.
Match Your Major to Your Mission
Decide according to your interest, talent, and skill. Also decide with healthy respect for the competition, because the majority of high-powered politicians and government officials prove their value by earning extremely high grades at elite universities.
Traditionally, the majority of politicians have come from attorneysâ€™ ranks. Because all their study derives from the Constitution, lawyers learn to love the document, the values it codifies, and the system it safeguards. Most lawyers-turned-politicians have honed their skills as litigators, the legal specialty especially dedicated to applying the law to real people, the everyday practice most devoted to the fine arts of persuasion and advocacy.
â€œPoli Sciâ€ majors stress their discipline is far more theoretical than practical, and it probably involves as much art as strict science. By no means â€œbeltway bootcamp,â€ political science involves sustained study of power relationships: how do people get power, and how do they use their power to protect and enhance their positions? How do weaker people and groups appropriate the means to power and work to replace existing power structures? How do economics influence power? To what extent do values and ideals influence voters; choices and politiciansâ€™ behavior? Yes, those questions will appear on the mid-term.
Face the obvious facts: Politicians devote the majority of their time and energy to wrangles over moneyâ€”how the government can get more, waste less, and apportion its revenue equitably. Of course, the study of economics includes careful analysis of government regulation and its impact of Gross Domestic Product; it includes similar study of taxation and GDP.
Most importantly, though, economics remains the most mathematical and analytic among the social sciences, so that it develops would-be politiciansâ€™ reasoning and forecasting skills. Not surprisingly, many economists have found that the laws of supply and demand apply to votersâ€™ choices as well as their retail purchasing habits; therefore, astute economists make savvy campaigners. Read The Selling of the President, 1968.
San Diego Congressman Bob Filner earned a doctorate in history and taught at San Diego State University before he ran for office. He says he applies his knowledge of history in every aspect of his legislative work. More importantly, Filner says, systematic study of history taught him how to think critically and analyze precisely, avoiding mistakes of the past and learning how todayâ€™s issues link with yesterdayâ€™s trends. Naturally, writing a dissertation and facing classrooms filled with hundreds of students made him an exceptionally skilled, persuasive communicatorâ€”a politicianâ€™s most important attribute.
Think of the next step in Alex P. Keatonâ€™s famous â€œHow a Bill Becomes a Lawâ€: How does a law become business-as-usual? With a degree in public administration, you regulate application of policies and laws in ordinary peopleâ€™s lives. Whether you work inside the beltway or way out in the heartland, you will serve in the executive branch of some government, treating the word â€œexecutiveâ€ very literally, because you become the person who â€œexecutesâ€ lawmakersâ€™ will.
Looking at the prospects practically, the demand for public administrators will increase in the next decade, because the executive branch has been the fastest-growing government area since George W. Bushâ€™s second term. Executive offices and professional positions have increased 40 percent in the last eight years, and they will continue to grow at that rate as power concentrates in the Presidency.
As you choose a major and a career path in politics, keep in mind you probably will serve â€œat the pleasure of the people.â€ In other words, whether or not you run for office, the voters will determine your employment. Therefore, choose with as much respect for what you will do during your time out-of-office as you feel fervor for what you will accomplish while you are in-office. Also keep the radical alternatives in mind. If politics fascinate you, but you do not exactly thrive on posters and buttons, consider a career in journalism, or learn to manage campaigns as a public relations major.
Marilyn Tate is a writer and city worker earning her online masters in public administration.