Politicians are human too. It's easy to forget that they are living, breathing beings with feelings, with aspirations and with loved ones. Yet caricatures abound especially when the country is in election mode.
t is all too easy to satirise and to target their worst attributes. The mud is slung even when they are known to us only from the occasional TV appearance. They are variously described as incompetent publicity seekers whose only goal is remaining in office long enough to qualify for a good pension. We see them as lacking 'the vision thing' if their policies differ from ours and we then categorise them into right or left, hard or soft. Nuance is not applied to our perception of politicians.
The low opinion in which politicians are held begs a question. Who would want to work in an environment where your service receivers have such a low opinion of you? Then there is the ever-present question of job insecurity, arising roughly every five years but sometimes arriving suddenly and without warning. This demands that you prove your worth to your constituents with weeks of campaigning during long, dark winter evenings and with no guarantee that you will be successful. The threat of rejection by the voters is real and substantial. Indeed with 159 seats to be filled from more than 500 candidates in this General Election, defeat for most is inevitable.
But loss for some is not unexpected, particularly when they are drawn to politics simply to prove a point, or as a single-issue candidate. They may not even be wannabe politicians. Others have political aspirations but not just yet and are testing the waters for a future run when they have achieved a realistic prospect of being elected.
I do not accept that people commonly enter politics with any egregious motivation. This is a gross oversimplification of their intent. Most who put themselves forward are spurred on by idealism and the interests of the country. To the voter on the street this may not seem obvious, especially when their political leanings differ from ours. Just like many others, I too am guilty of the same stereotyping of their motivations and I have to remind myself that not all will be on a power-grab mission. Being a career politician should not be frowned upon. Rather, it helps build experience and hopefully wisdom to appreciate what is achievable and what is impossible in the world of government.
Many are long-serving, diligent public representatives who serve their constituents by working hard and trying to help those whom they meet in their clinics, much as a doctor would.
It must be heartbreaking for those politicians who, year after year, were elected only to then be unceremoniously rejected. Even during a campaign that is faltering, some refuse to even discuss the possibility with close family members. They continue to use cognitive tricks to convince themselves that on the day the tide will turn and the electorate will be loyal.
For some, there is no hint of loss until the votes are actually coming in. This can lead to shock and dejection.
Jane Roberts, a visiting fellow with the Open University, carried out a qualitative analysis of the impact of this 'sudden death' by interviewing 30 politicians who had lost their seats in 2010 in the UK. Partners were also interviewed where possible. She confirmed the refusal to countenance loss because of the belief that such thoughts would lead to loss. This is not unreasonable because motivating the campaign team, including canvassers, would prove challenging if a candidate believed defeat was likely; so optimism must be the mien.
She also spoke to some who had to appear on television on election night to discuss the outcome. They described how they tried to be confident and carry the discussion through for the party while concealing a set of turbulent emotions ranging from hurt, betrayal, a sense of failure and devastation.
Roberts' work also described the conflict they felt between acknowledging the democratic deal that voters could and should vote out politicians on the one hand with their personal sense of being rejected by the electorate.
Some even left the constituency for a period rather than face the voters on the streets. Although not discussed by her, it is likely that those who are rejected will try to rationalise this as emanating from a rejection of the party's policies rather than a personal rejection, while for others they will feel their ideals and policies are no longer relevant.
Others in the study described sadness at the enforced closure of constituency offices, at the departure from the parliamentary office and at saying goodbye to their team. A few became clinically depressed and I can also attest to this.
There are likely to be poignant moments too, as the defeated candidate looks at the posters after rejection by the electorate. The images, created in optimism, are now in tatters. And there are the financial considerations too. Some, in small parties, or those standing as independents, stand to lose significant amounts of money. Some have to find work elsewhere or indeed create their own.
So as the last of the votes are counted, perhaps we should spare a thought for the losers and if we meet them on the street thank them for their service, even if we vehemently disagree with their politics. We shouldn't 'kick a man when he's down'.
Patricia Casey is consultant psychiatrist in the Mater Hospital, Dublin and professor emeritus at UCD