Do politicians have feelings?

Armchair Mayor
By Mel Rothenburger
September 16, 2017 - 5:00am Updated: September 16, 2017 - 7:35am

KAMLOOPS — Twenty-seven residents of Kamloops are heading for a whole lot of hurt.

For 24 of them, it will hit them hard on Saturday night, Sept. 30. That’s when they’ll receive their rejection slips from the electorate.

Some will miss the prize by a whisker. Others will be soundly repudiated.

It’s hard to know which is worse — thinking about what almost was, or realizing it never could have been.

Right now, most of the 27 — a scant few have had enough taste of politics to already know how it works — are just beginning to figure out how much they don’t know, how naïve they were when they decided to collect some signatures and submit their nomination papers last month.

They’ve gotten a taste of being on the hot seat, of having to explain the practical end of their promises. They’re discovering that their best ideas have long ago been proven impractical or too expensive, or are beyond the jurisdiction of civic government, or actually aren’t very popular.

And yet, they want to do it, because they believe they can do some good. In return, they’ve found that getting into politics means being a target for every disaffected taxpayer, troll and hater on every street in the city.

Running in an election is like asking a girl out on a date — the hapless teenager takes weeks, maybe months to screw up his courage, writing and re-writing a script for himself of what he’ll say to her. With trembling fingers he picks up the phone, dials and fumbles his way through it, only to hear her tell him no.

(I’m aware that teens don’t actually ask each other on dates anymore; they use apps. But you get the idea.)

The 24 who don’t make it onto council will feel like throwing up for quite a while afterwards. They will grieve their loss and, eventually, move on. The three who make it onto council two Saturdays from now will go through a brief period of euphoria before reality sets in. They’ll

be flooded with congratulations. Everybody will want to talk to them — with an agenda, of course. Invitations will pour in for public events.

But soon will come the angry phone calls, self-righteous reporters, nasty emails, poison Facebook posts, and general disdain as though they are a member of a sub-human species that deserves to be on the endangered list.

I know some of you will find this impossible to believe, but it’s true: politicians have feelings.

I’ve had a lot of experience at this, having written about politicians for the past 50 years, and also having been one myself at times. I know I’ve hurt people, even though I’ve always aspired to a personal policy of not getting personal.

Yet some of what I considered at the time to be my best stuff, my sharpest wit, my most telling satire, has hurt. Sometimes, the thoughtful can become thoughtless.

The goal is to make politicians better, not to make them feel small.

When you dismiss a politician as a blithering cretin, when you cross the line from disagreeing with policies and decisions and descend into the abusive, the scornful, the slurs, slander and defamation, you are causing needless pain.

We wouldn’t knowingly cause pain to a child and, yet, political families feel the hurt of insult every bit as deeply as the politician.

It’s seldom obvious. Families are discouraged from lashing out, though they want to. And the politician must not be seen to have hurt feelings. He or she must simply take it. Some of the most bombastic politicians have the thinnest skin.

Of course, every now and then they do fight back, exchanging insults with their tormentors, in which case it’s guaranteed to became a major media story.

It would be easy to say, “If you can’t take the heat, get out of the kitchen.”

But psychopaths usually don’t become politicians, because politicians care. We get mad at politicians because they care about the wrong

things, because their values don’t match ours, because they make mistakes, because sometimes they put their own interests in front of ours.

But they’re people. And those brave souls who have put their names on the ballot for the end of this month are finding out that “giving back” isn’t easy.