Another politician foolishly denies that he’s a politician

You’re familiar, I’m sure, with the old joke about the first indication that a politician is lying is when his lips are moving.

But what can we say about a politician whose first really big lie is his claim that he’s not a politician?

Neurosurgeon Ben Carson launched his presidential candidacy yesterday with just such a lie. “I am not a politician,” he told an audience of admirers in his native Detroit.

Of course, Carson is not the first Republican presidential candidate to make such a declaration. Michele Bachmann put it this way a couple of years ago: “I am not a politician. I am a real person. I don’t even know how to be a politician.”

Bachmann’s claim was especially interesting on several counts. First, she implied that politicians are not “real” people, which is nonsense. But then, she flirted with the truth in admitting that she doesn’t know how to be a politician. Granted, there’s plenty of evidence that she doesn’t now how to be a good politician.

But why do politicians like Carson and Bachmann disdain “politician” or “politics” as if they were four-letter words? The answer, of course, is simple: Countless millions of Americans seem to think there is some magical, non-political way to run our public affairs and operate our governments. But there is not any such way, not in a democratic republic.

Politics are a messy business. They’re supposed to be messy. The system was designed to be at least a little messy.

President Obama was flat-out wrong, then, when said this a few years about some legislative pet project of his:

“This is not about politics. This is about doing the right thing…Every once in a while, we set politics aside, and we just do what’s right.”

I agreed with Obama’s objectives with regard to the matter at hand. But I thought his disavowal of politics was pure poppycock. It was 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, 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.



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