Oh, if that were only true. I believe Weigel was referring to politicians and running for office, and of course too many politicians are motivated more by personal gain than public good. But the problem isn’t only with those whose name is on the ballot, it’s also a problem for those who turn in their ballots.
For politicians, according to a famous essay, “conduct can be oriented to an ‘ethic of ultimate ends’ or an ‘ethic of responsibility.'” In America, there are few situations where the “ethic of ultimate ends” is the defensible recourse of people entrusted with the exercise of power; we may have too much gridlock, and many governing bodies have minorities unable to exert any direct influence on the exercise of power, but public officials can usually accomplish something positive, and are obligated to make every effort to do so. Citizens not actively engaged in governing don’t have that same obligation in their daily life. But there is one situation where every citizen* has not only an opportunity to express power, but–usually–an obligation to exercise it responsibly: voting.
For most people, voting produces an emotional reaction; their vote makes them feel good, feel bad, feel frustrated, feel connected with others, feel independent of the crowd. But for too many people, feelings come first, and determine what they do with their ballot. Occasionally every option before a voter is odious, or maybe the implications of their vote is inconsequential. In these cases, whether to vote and, if voting, whether to limit one’s vote to only those with any plausible chance of winning, won’t have much effect on the world. But in most cases, what one does with their vote has the potential to effect not only the voter, but also their community and society.
Whether and how to exercise one’s vote has material effects on local property values and the quality and curriculum of schools, one people’s physical and economic security, on societal prosperity, on social equity and justice, and in US federal elections, how we exert and whether we impose our unmatched cultural, diplomatic, economic and military strength around the world. It’s a damn serious thing, what one does with their vote. But the US is probably the most radically individualistic society on earthy, and too often people treat voting as an individual act of self-actualization, rather than a small part of a larger collective act in which one expresses their choice–and this is key–among the options available in that moment of what they want for themselves, but also for their community, society and world.
There’s room in politics for some self-actualization. But we’d all be better off if US politics in America were less about self-actualization–about how you feel– and more about acting responsibly toward and in solidarity with one’s fellow citizens.