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Wanting more of what we're tired of

Live from Saipan By Zaldy Dandan

Saipan — Here in the CNMI, it seems that every time “concerned” citizens become “more concerned” about the state of their commonwealth — its politics and politicians — the preferred “solution” is to turn more government officials into politicians.

Currently, voters decide whether local justices and judges will be retained, and voters also elect the attorney general who is supposed to be “non-partisan.”

Recently, there have been proposals to make the Department of Public Safety commissioner and the public auditor “non-partisan” elected officials as well.

We complain about politics and politicians… so we want more of them.

We have an elected governor, lt. governor, mayors, legislators, municipal council and Board of Education members. And every day all you hear from voters, and all you read on social media and the newspapers’ online comment section, are complaints about their elected officials.

In June, Liz Wolfe of Reason reported about a survey conducted by the Pew Research Center, indicating that many Americans distrust their government. According to Wolfe, only 6 percent of the survey respondents say the federal government is extremely “careful with taxpayer money.” And yet the same respondents also say that they want the same government to do more.


In other words, most of the respondents believe that government officials who have historically failed to deliver results and have consistently wasted taxpayer money will use their power to smartly protect people from themselves.

“What?” asked Wolfe.

Actually, the better question is, “So what’s new?”

In the 19th century, British philosopher Herbert Spencer wrote, “Take up a daily paper and you will probably find [an editorial] exposing the corruption, negligence, or mismanagement of some state department. Cast your eye down the next column, and it is not unlikely that you will read proposals for an extension of state supervision…. Here is a vehement condemnation of the police for stupidly allowing sightseers to crush each other to death.

“You look for the corollary that official regulation is not to be trusted; when, instead, à propos of a shipwreck, you read an urgent demand for government inspectors to see that ships always have their boats ready for launching.

“Thus, while every day chronicles a failure, there every day reappears the belief that it needs but an Act of Parliament and a staff of officers to effect any end desired. Nowhere is the perennial faith of mankind better seen. Ever since society existed Disappointment has been preaching, ‘Put not your trust in legislation; and yet the trust in legislation seems scarcely diminished.”

In the 21st century, we are still complaining about the government and its officials, and politics and politicians, and yet we are still demanding “more” from our government and its officials, from politics and politicians.


Wolfe said, “hope that…government won't be comprised of blustering fools with bad incentives apparently springs eternal.”

Of course, I’m not saying we should abolish democracy. A dictatorship is so much worse — and deadlier. Maybe I’m just saying that democracy is as good as it gets, and that I now have a better appreciation of Voltaire’s 1759 novel, Candide, specifically its ending. “We must,” says the lead character, “cultivate our own garden.”

From The School of Life website: “What did Voltaire mean with his gardening advice? That we must keep a good distance between ourselves and the world, because taking too close an interest in politics or public opinion is a fast route to aggravation and danger.

We should know well enough at this point that humans are troublesome and will never achieve — at a state level — anything like the degree of logic and goodness we would wish for. We should never tie our personal moods to the condition of a whole nation or people in general; or we would need to weep continuously. We need to live in our own small plots, not the heads of strangers.”

Zaldy Dandan is editor of the NMI’s oldest newspaper, Marianas Variety. His fourth book, If He Isn’t Insane Then He Should Be: Stories & Poems from Saipan, is available on

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