Politicians who disavow political motives are playing politics


In a speech about gun control last night in Hartford, Conn., President Obama said:

This is not about politics. This is about doing the right thing for all the families that are here that have been torn apart by gun violence. It’s about them and all the families going forward, so we can prevent this from happening again….Every once in a while, we set politics aside, and we just do what’s right.

While I agree with Obama’s objectives in this matter, I think his disavowal of politics is pure poppycock. It’s part and parcel of the widespread, but foolish, notion that “politics” is a dirty word. It’s not. Politics is how we get things done in this world.

All legislation — whether it has to do with gun control, or taxes, or abortion, or infrastructure, or public health, or whatever — is political. Therefore, it’s silly for anyone to say that a politician is “just playing politics” on some issue or another. Playing politics  — or, more correctly, practicing politics — is what politicians are supposed to do. That’s what we elect them to do.

When we go to the polls on Election Day — today, for example — we, too, are playing politics. We’re voting for certain people to pursue certain political objectives. It’s stupid and hypocritical, then, for us to turn around and accuse the people we elected of playing politics.

This nation’s Founding Fathers were politicians. Some of them were even “career politicians,” which is another ridiculous pejorative these days — as if a career in politics is ipso facto a dishonorable undertaking. Thomas Jefferson was a career politician. Over a period of more than 35 years, he held more public offices than most any current politician you could name.

Abraham Lincoln was another career politician. He lost most of the elections in which he ran, but he served in the Illinois Legislature and the U.S. Congress before becoming president. He was also a master at playing politics — that is, at swaying public opinion to his advantage.

As Lincoln once said: “He who moulds public sentiment, goes deeper than he who enacts statutes or pronounces decisions. He makes statutes and decisions possible or impossible to be executed.”

When a politician “moulds public sentiment,” as Lincoln put it, he is playing politics.

Let’s not be so naive as to think of politics as something that by definition is bad.



  1. expdoc

    “Politics” are not by defintion bad.

    Rather, the brand of politics practiced by an ever growing majority of our elected officials is bad. They never choose to play politics, rather, every single waking moment of their existence is about politics, messaging and image.

    Too often the politics on display have nothing to do with solving problems and much more to do with getting re-elected and raising more funds.

    This is the main reason I am in favor of term limits.

  2. doc: Term limits? Even Ronald Reagan was against term limits.

    Term limits only deny voters the right to re-elect whomever they want.

    We already have term limits. We call them “elections.” Incumbent politicians deemed unsuitable by a majority of voters never win. The winners invariably are incumbents or newcomers deemed preferable to their opponents by voters.

    You just don’t like representative democracy, do you, doc? (Oh, and don’t give me that familiar nonsense about how our system is not intended to be democratic. History and common sense belie that crapola.)

  3. Robert

    expdoc, as much as Pat demonized you for your comment, I think its right on. We have term limits on the presidency, why is it such a bad thing for other branches, including federal and supreme court judges?

  4. expdoc

    Since when are you a champion of what Ronald Reagan believed? You were probably marching in the streets protesting Ronnie back in the 80’s.

    Elections, and the absolute focus of politicians on getting re-elected, results in a continual election cycle .

    Human nature dictates that most elected politicians become focused on retaining/gaining power and adding to their election funds on a continual basis so they can keep their jobs. Term limits could result in politicians that were not focused on a career in governance as a job, but rather on serving all of their constituents (and more importantly the country as a whole) for the time they are in office.

  5. expdoc

    When he decides to reply to comments Pat demonizes many of those that disagree with him and dare to post here.

    It is part of his hardened, liberal nature. It’s kind of funny too, because at times he will become incensed when he gets a response in a similar tone. The very tone he sets with the intro to his blog.

    I view it as an endearing trait of the old guy.

  6. doc whines about my “hardened, liberal nature.” Never mind that he’s a big fan of some of the most hard-headed Republican extremists in the land — Ron Johnson, for example. doc’s political heroes are a weird assortment of homophobes, creationists, global-warming deniers and gun nuts. His political preferences are just part of doc’s hardened, right-wing nature.

    It’s an endearing trait of this prolific crackpot.

    By the way, I don’t respond to most commenters who disagree with me. But doc’s whopping output of 4,969 submissions here begs an occasional blowback.

  7. Robert

    Pat, I think expdoc gave some solid justifications for term limits. I’m with him on this issue. On the other subjects you note about him, well, I’ll have to judge him as he post on those subjects and then praise or smack down as appropriate.

    I do have to give fair warning, these type blogs tend to drain me, so I will probably disappear as quickly as I re-appeared. I miss Rockford. Posting here allows me a connection to my past. As I get older, I tend to look back more than forward.

  8. I think term limits would make politicians more beholden to fringe groups and moneyed interests. A Senator having to explain his or her politics every six years reinforces accountability, at least to some degree.

    What politician would give a whit about voters when they don’t have to run again? Reminds me of the sleazy pardons that lame duck Presidents give out.

    Term-limited politicians would even more blatantly shill for their next employer instead of us (cue the wingnut reply that corporations are people…as if!).

  9. Craig Knauss

    Our local congressman, “Doc” Hastings, R, WA promised to only run for two terms when he began his congressional career. I call it a career because that was quite a few terms ago. He is beholden to the oil companies and pretty much ignores his electorate, except to rubber stamp Tea Party crap. If nothing else, term limits would get in someone with potentially new thoughts.

  10. expdoc

    Hardened right wing nature? Ha Ha Ha.

    I am a physician not a political hack, it would be impossible for me to be hardened to any political view.

    Do I get a prize when I hit 5000 comments?

    I certainly deserve one 🙂

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