Wednesday, September 14, 2011

What is a Politician?

Gerard N. Magliocca

One of the emerging themes in my biography of John Bingham (the main drafter of Section One of the Fourteenth Amendment) is that he was a politician like everyone else. There is a tendency to look at leaders from long ago (particularly constitutional leaders) and think that they were more principled or less craven than ours, but that just isn't true. Shakespeare's Mark Antony was wrong in this respect: The good that men do lives after them; it's the evil that is oft interred with their bones.

When I say that Bingham was a politician, I mean that in its positive and negative sense. The critical connotation is easier to see. He made repeated compromises with slavery prior to the Civil War and often dodged, hedged, or made misleading statements on controversial issues to protect his seat in Congress. This behavior, though, could also be described as praiseworthy. He paid close attention to public opinion and attempted to build bridges between different constituencies, which sometimes required equivocal or ambiguous statements during the most polarized time in our nation's history.

The most glowing description of a politician comes from Richard Nixon's eulogy for Senator Everett Dirksen:

"A politician knows that more important than the bill that is proposed is the law that is passed. A politician knows that his friends are not always his allies, and that his adversaries are not his enemies. A politician knows how to make the process of democracy work, and loves the intricate workings of the democratic system. A politician knows not only how to count votes, but how to make his vote count. A politician knows that his words are his weapons, but that his word is his bond. A politician knows that only if he leaves room for discussion and room for concession can he gain room for maneuver. A politician knows that the best way to be a winner is to make the other side feel it does not have to be a loser."


In Steel's 1987 book review of Ambrose's biographical sketch of Nixon, Steel selects as a title the Nixon quote I had to win; the latter is a reference explained in paragraph 8 of the article, which contextualizes the remark with respect to Nixon's 1946 campaign for a spot in congress.

This article is very interesting and meaningful. Thank you very much. Thank you very much!
chaga mushroomSprachschule Wien

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