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A Day in the Life of a Politician

Politics has been with us for as long as people have had to cooperate to achieve their goals. Over a half-million people currently hold full- or part-time elective offices in the United States, making decisions that affect communities on local, state, and national levels. For those who wish to participate in society’s decisions, a career in politics should absolutely be considered. Politicians have a hand in thousands of decisions important to their communities, from questions of dividing tax revenue for local schools to police funding to issues of federal tax policy. The profession offers great rewards to those with a combination of negotiation and public presentation skills. In addition to full-time political jobs, many find that part-time community boards, town councils, or even state assembly jobs make valuable and rewarding adjuncts to their full-time careers. Politics is not for the shy. At all levels, it is characterized by publicity. Most successful politicians enjoy visibility, while those who leave the profession often cite loss of privacy as its greatest drawback. Whether in a small town or in the White House, politicians are subject to intense scrutiny. Elected officials have to campaign for reelection every time their term is up, but, for the most part, the first time is the real challenge; incumbency is a strong advantage in elections. More than 90 percent of the U.S. House of Representatives is reelected every two years, and the reelection rates at the lower levels of politics are similar.

Paying Your Dues

There is no one career path which reliably leads to an elective office. Working as an aide for an established politician is one common way to meet contacts in the local political party apparatus. Law school is another common first step to a political career, since many lawyers achieve public notice and visibility or do work for state political parties. In general, political careers begin with an elective office in state government; most politicians in Washington start as state legislators and work their way up the party hierarchy. In politics, however, the exception is the rule, and people of all backgrounds pursue successful political careers, from peanut farmers to actors. Charisma is important, and being independently wealthy to finance campaigns doesn’t hurt either.

Present and Future

Modern democracy traces itself to the assembly of ancient Athens, but U.S. representative government bears little resemblance to the Athenian system. U.S. politics is a much more sedate affair, even though the public perception of politicians remains rather volatile. In any event, the profession will endure. Public questions will always need to be answered, and politicians will always be needed to answer them.

Quality of Life

PRESENT AND FUTURE

At this point, a politician is in the early stages of her career, holding a relatively low level or local office. This may be a school or community board position, a seat in the lower house of the state government, or a position as a small town mayor or town council member. In general, staffs, budgets, and campaign funds are small, and the areas of responsibility of the office are quite limited. Politicians begin to build relationships within their political party that they will depend upon throughout their career, attempting to gain the public notice which will provide the foundation for a successful run for higher office. Reelection is a significant concern in these first years, though each successful reelection in a given position reduces the risk of later challenge.

FIVE YEARS OUT

By now the politician has survived at least one, and probably more than one, reelection campaign. The politician has likely established a solid base of support in their local community and is beginning to gain more public attention. Their proposals and initiatives are starting to have a greater chance of success in the local government. The politician is establishing a reputation as a viable candidate for higher office, whether in the city government, the state senate, or Congress.

TEN YEARS OUT

Successful politicians have by now risen in the party ranks, and they likely have a secure hold on their office and can consider the extent of their ambitions. They are likely among those who have the connections and experience to run for senatorial or congressional office, or they could be one of many politicians who build satisfying careers at the state and city level. In any event, politicians who survive the first ten years can be reasonably confident of lifelong political careers, should they choose to pursue them.