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.