There’s nothing wrong with being a politician, per se

I just have one brief reaction to this email from Mia McLeod:

I’m a public servant, not a politician. There’s a difference.

One is committed to public service; the other, to that which is politically expedient.

And although I didn’t create the term, “OG,” you’ve gotta admit…when it comes to describing the corrupt, self-serving practices of the Old Guard…the glove definitely fits. And they’ve got their hands in it…from the Governor’s mansion…to the State House…and everything in between…all of these good ole boys and gals wanna do the deeds, but none of them want the “label.”
Fortunately, the voters of House District 79 didn’t send me to the State House to make new friends or become a willing participant in a corrupt “system” of governance that isn’t accessible, accountable or beneficial to the people it purports to serve. That’s “the system” I encountered when I was elected to the SC House four years ago, and that’s “the system” that I fight every single day.

And since so many members of the OG seem to question the definition and whether they’re appropriately “labeled,” please allow me to clarify for them what you and I already know…

The “OG” is defined by a self-preserving mindset and self-serving behavior, not age. There’s a difference.

Truth is…the OG is a very diverse group. Representing every age, race, ethnicity, gender, discipline and party affiliation, they are masters of deception and rhetoric. Why? Because if they can convince you to trust and believe what they say, you won’t pay close attention to what they do.

But if you’re still in doubt, just check these out. They’re some of the OG’s proudest moments:

Governor Haley’s ethics charges, although legitimate and substantiated, are unabashedly “dropped” by her OG colleagues…some of whom now stand with her in front of every camera they can find, “demanding” ethics reform

Former Richland County Elections Director recklessly disenfranchises thousands of voters in 2012, but is endorsed, elevated, insulated and just a few weeks ago, reinstated by the OG over the objections of outraged voters

Richland Two’s School Board Chair publicly confirms his support for the divisive, self-serving OG practices of the Superintendent, while they continue to disregard the voices of the majority, diminish the District’s diversity and discreetly plot to put even more of their cronies into high-paying positions at the District Office (“DO”)

Yeah…the OG is a narcissistic and seemingly invincible force, alright…united by greed and loyal only to that which strengthens and preserves their power.

Never principle. Never people.

Not surprisingly, I’m OG Enemy #1. Among their “faves” are threats to “take me out” (of this House seat) by finding and supporting an opponent who will advance their agenda. Self-preservation is always rule #1 in the OG’s handbook. Anyone who exposes their dirty deeds becomes their number one target.

And after two years of trying, looks like the OG has found me a “doozie” of a primary opponent…one that’s obviously in sync with their core mission. Disbarred for almost a decade, publicly reprimanded for “misusing” his clients’ money…now, that’s their kinda politician.

But before they get too excited, here’s a newsflash…

I write my own stuff…every word. My voice is not attached to or contingent upon “this seat” in the SC House. Neither is my ability to fight for what’s right. So whether I’m fighting “the system” at the State House or relaxing in the comfort of my own house, I won’t be bullied. I refuse to be silenced. And I definitely ain’t scared.

By now, even they realize…that’s the difference.

On June 10th, tell the OG they’ve got to GO! Vote to re-elect Mia for House District 79!

And my reaction is this: You may be right that the people of your district didn’t “didn’t send me to the State House to make new friends or become a willing participant.” But presumably they did send you there to be effective, and that means playing well with others and not being a constant irritant so that no one wants to work with you. Which I’m not saying Mia is. But her emails can really come across that way.

It’s understandable to take pride that “I write my own stuff…every word.” But maybe she could use a good editor.

Bottom line, there’s nothing wrong with being a politician. Yeah, they can be smarmy and phony and off-putting, but only if they’re not good at it.

You can have all the principles and dedication to public service in the world, and if you lack basic political skills, you’re not going to be much good to the public, or to anyone. I’d like to have seen someone with Jimmy Carter’s principles have the skills of Bill Clinton, or Ronald Reagan.

Richard Nixon was a guy with some decent policy ideas, but was dragged down by his many character flaws, including among them an inability to interact with other human beings in a way that wasn’t off-putting.

A politician is a person who is good at working with other human beings to get things done. And that’s not a bad thing to be, in and of itself.

42 thoughts on “There’s nothing wrong with being a politician, per se

    1. Doug Ross

      What do you want me to say? She’s right. The problem with politics is the people in politics. The majority of politicians use their position for their own benefit. They have a problem telling the truth. They take money from donors and use their influence to enact legislation and regulations to help those donors.

      If you’re ethical, you don’t need to compromise with those who aren’t. If you’re right, you don’t need to compromise with those who aren’t. If you can speak for yourself, you don’t need someone else to massage your message in order to win votes. Compromise is for losers.

      More power to her. In fact, more money, too. I just donated to her campaign.

      1. Kathryn Fenner

        I agree with Brad. If you really care about what you want to get done, you compromise. I harken back to Bono’s observation to his critics who derided his working with Jesse Helms to get aid to Africa: You don’t have to agree with someone on every point to get something done, just on one point!

        1. Doug Ross

          Kathryn – If your husband said he wanted a cat to replace your dog, would you compromise and get one? It’s still a pet. If he said “If you vote for Bush this time, I’ll vote for your choice next time” would you do it?

          1. Kathryn Fenner

            Those are not apposite to politics. If my husband really wanted to get a new computer, and I really wanted a splashy home improvement, perhaps this time he gets the computer and next time I get the new bathroom. Or his first choice of restaurant is M Vista and mine is, say, Baan Sawan, but we both also like Motor Supply, so we go there….

            I am allergic to cats….

      2. Mark Stewart

        One doesn’t compromise one’s ethics. Ever. After that, compromise and consensus-building is the order of the day.

        Anyone who knows they are right and refuses to work with others clearly doesn’t really know what’s what.

      3. Doug Ross

        IF you define compromise as “I will give in on this even though I think it is wrong so that you will give in on that even though you think it is wrong” then I am not interested in compromise. Trading votes on bills isn’t compromise. It’s politics.

        Compromise gets you a flag in front of the State House.

        1. Doug Ross

          @Mark – you don’t compromise ethics or principles. There are plenty of things that each one of us would consider non-negotiable. If you have a fundamental belief that smaller government is better, you look to do whatever you can to achieve that.

        2. Kathryn Fenner

          Politicians IRL, not necessarily on TV, do not give in on things they think are wrong. They find things they don’t think are wrong to trade.

      4. Doug Ross

        Quick – name the last three times you compromised on something AND felt good about it…

        1. Doug Ross

          I went to see one of the Twilight movies with my wife as a compromise for getting her to go to the Three Stooges remake by the Farrelly brothers. I was sorely disappointed in both cases.

            1. Mark Stewart

              Yeah, that’s kind of what I was thinking, Kathryn.

              And Doug, I compromise every day. I would feel far worse if I did not. Do all compromises feel good? Of course not. But not compromising will most assuredly put everyone in a far worse place. Compromising is investing in the future and knowing there is value in that.

            2. Brad Warthen Post author

              Yes, KP!

              The first great lesson in compromise in life is getting married. The second is having a child. At least, one hopes the lessons come in that order.

              If you can’t bend on your expectations of the other people in your life, you are on course for misery — and perhaps irreparable harm to the kids.

              The third is having another child. A HUGE step is having a third (when our third was on the way, my wife’s OB, who had seven, told her that the adjustment with the third was the hardest, because that’s the first time you’re outnumbered), With each, the dynamics you have to navigate in your family change yet again.

              I’ve had a LOT of lessons in compromise.

              I’ll add to this that grandchildren take it to yet another level. You want to help; you want to have a good influence on them, but you are no longer in charge. Your kids outrank you in the decision-making. So if you want to have an influence, and a good one, you have to learn to be diplomatic at a whole other level…

            3. Brad Warthen Post author

              Oh, and outside family life…

              For the last five years, I’ve had to compromise a LOT more than I did in the preceding decades.

              As editorial page editor, I was the final arbiter of what we did and what we said, as well as what we published beyond our own positions.

              I didn’t realize the extent to which that was habit for me until I suddenly found myself in a world in which — gasp! — CLIENTS had the final say. To me, this was like letting random readers, or worse, newsmakers, make editorial decisions for me. Shocking….

              OK, I jest to some extent. While I was the final arbiter as EPE, I chose to seek consensus positions among my colleagues, which required certain political skills. Maybe everyone didn’t feel GREAT about the decisions I led us to, but I tried to make sure they didn’t feel too awful about it, either. Which means we didn’t always do it exactly the way I preferred.

              But I’m not lying when I say that being in a world where the final say is in someone else’s hands remains very weird for me…

            4. Doug Ross

              I guess (as usual) I don’t see things the same way. Marrying my wife wasn’t a compromise, nor was having children. The definition of compromise is giving up something you want in order to reach agreement. Getting married and having kids was what we both wanted. What did I give up? There’s also a difference between compromising and not caring about a decision enough to make an issue about it when it doesn’t go your way. That’s not compromise, it’s indifference.

            5. Doug Ross

              I’m trying to find the correct wording for my anniversary card later this month… maybe one of you can help me out:

              “Honey, it’s been 28 years since I compromised and married you. Since then, I have compromised my hopes and dreams by agreeing to have three children. That third one wasn’t one I really wanted but I agreed to it in order to keep you happy. I cherish that we make decisions where you get your way one time and then I get my way the next just like the politicians who vote for bills they don’t like to pass the ones they do. I look forward to our later years together where we choose to live in Arkansas because it is a compromise between Alaska and Florida.”

            6. Brad Warthen

              Doug, I didn’t say getting married is a compromise. I said that being married teaches you about accommodating another person, cooperating so that the relationship thrives. Each child who joins the family adds further complexity to the interpersonal dynamics of the household.

              When the first child comes, the mother and father are no longer just living for themselves or each other. In fact, their concerns take a back seat. When a second comes, the former only child is suddenly a supporting player as everyone focuses on the baby. When a third comes, the baby becomes the middle child, and has to adjust. The whole family adjusts, with each addition. If they don’t, the family can become dysfunctional.

            7. Doug Ross

              Brad – your words verbatim:

              “The first great lesson in compromise in life is getting married. “

              1. Brad Warthen Post author

                That’s right. Few things will teach you more about compromise — about considering what others want as much as or more than what you want — than marriage.

            8. Mark Stewart

              Family dynamics, like politics, can too easily become dysfunctional. In both cases, it’s the inability to agree on the framework of negotiation that causes people to fail to find common ground.

            9. Doug Ross

              And in my view cooperation isn’t compromise. Cooperation is working to achieve a common goal. Compromise is making concessions to achieve a lesser goal.

            10. Doug Ross

              @Mark – I would imagine that a lot of family dynamic issues are a result of one party feeling he or she has compromised too often or been forced to accept too many unacceptable conditions.

              Theroretically, if compromise was always a good thing, there would be no divorce…. because one side would always give in.

            11. Mark Stewart

              Doug, I don’t think Brad was saying that marrying someone is a compromise; to me his statement was read as the process of settling into a state of marriage is when many people first experience the fullest meaning of “partnership” – which is a negotiated compromise that is not a giving in but a building up.

              The hardest thing for people is working through how we and others conceptualize the world and bridging those cognitive dissonances. The actual differences between people are much easier to negotiate.

  1. Doug Ross

    Here’s an example of political compromise from today’s news.

    “Frustrated that the administration appears to be slow walking a decision on whether to approve the Keystone XL Pipeline past the November midterm election, a bipartisan coalition of senators is rallying around a bill that would effectively brush aside the president and authorize the project. Harry
    Reid is no fan of the pipeline, but he is feeling heat from his own members to bring the issue up for a vote – possibly this week – provided Republicans agree to support a separate energy efficiency bill drafted by Sens. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) and Rob Portman (R-OH).”

    So both sides have enough members willing to vote for something they really don’t want just to get what they do want. Is that the best solution?

  2. KP

    You know, it just might be, unless you’re violently opposed to the pipeline or violently opposed to energy efficiency.

    1. Doug Ross

      Politicians (most) aren’t stupid. Some will vote for the pipeline knowing that Obama will veto it, just so they can say they were for it.

  3. Kathryn Fenner

    You could not pay me to take a cat, but I did go to a math department party last Saturday night, and Steve comes to the neighborhood association meetings. Cats are wrong, unethical, but sometimes we do things we are not fans of to accommodate others, at least I do.

      1. Bryan Caskey

        That’s my “lawyer’s definition” of a reasonable settlement agreement in civil litigation.

        I always tell clients something like that at the outset of mediation. If both parties are moderately unhappy with the settlement we reach today, it’s probably a good one.

  4. Bryan Caskey

    “You’re married; you compromise every day.” -KP Reminds me of an old joke about compromise between husband and wives:

    [Man Talking to Friend]: Yeah, my wife and I were trying to decide if we are going to get a dog or a cat.
    [Friend]: So what did you end up doing?
    [Man]: Well, I wanted a dog, but my wife wanted a cat.
    [Friend]: Yeah, I get that. So what did you do?
    [Man] Well, we compromised. We got a cat.


  5. Kathryn Fenner

    Compromise is not doing something unethical, or that makes you miserable, in healthy people. It is doing something less than your top preference in exchange for a greater good.

    Now, for black-and-white thinkers, or those with personality disorders….

    1. Doug Ross

      What is the “greater good”? When do you know when you’ve done enough for the greater good to consider your own needs? Typically, “the greater good” means someone else paying for what you want, as in “I want everyone else to chip in for what I think is good”.

      My personality disorder is one where I don’t expect others to contribute to my greater good. As my buddy Ayn Rand wrote ““I swear by my life and my love of it that I will never live for the sake of another man, nor ask another man to live for mine.”

    2. Doug Ross

      And we’ve come full circle now when it comes to politicians and compromise – if a politician feels that Obamacare (a bill passed with little or no compromise) is wrong and a miserable choice, why wouldn’t he do everything he can to reverse the decision? What would be the compromising position in that case? To just accept it?

      Same goes for Roe V. Wade… is there really any decision on that topic that is an acceptable compromise for those who oppose or support it?

      Ron Paul may have been the least compromising politician in our lifetime. And his constituents voted him into office over and over again. Should he have changed his positions or should he have continued to try and make his case for what he believed in?

      1. Bryan Caskey

        What would be the compromising position in that case? To just accept it [Obamacare]?”

        No, just accepting it isn’t a compromise position. The two extreme ends of the argument with Obamacare are:

        1. Accept it. It’s the law.
        2. Repeal it right now. It’s a bad idea.

        A compromise position would be somewhere in between those two positions. You could compromise and say (just for instance): It remains law for 4 years (or some period of time), and then is automatically repealed unless Congress re-passes the law. If it sunsets, then anyone with an Obamacare plan keeps that plan, but no more plans will be sold on the exchanges and there will no longer be a “tax” (that still makes me chuckle) on those who don’t have insurance.

        I’m not saying that we should do that. I’m sure both sides would have problems with that core agreement. But it gives each side (potentially) an incentive to make a concession and agree to something lesser than their ideal position.

        Abortion is thornier, but it’s possible. Again, you have to start by identifying the two extreme positions.

        1. Abortions at will, at any time – on demand, for any reason or no reason.
        2. No abortions at all – ever.

        Possible Compromise: Abortions allowed for any reason during first X weeks of pregnancy. Thereafter, in the case of rape, incest, or saving the life of the mother.

        Now again, you’ll have people who won’t like it. And the thing is, in general, to do a compromise between opposing parties, you kind of have to have the two opposing parties agree to be bound by whatever deal their respective negotiator gets. And that’s virtually impossible in politics.

        Think about Israel/Palestine. Even if the leaders agreed to something (assume Arafat had accepted the deal offered at Camp David in 2000), the people of Israel and Palestine might not liked the compromise, and they could have sabotaged it by refusing to cooperate or starting a violent conflict.

        Some people don’t have any interest in compromise.

        Closer to home, think about slavery. Henry Clay was hailed as the “Great Compromiser” back in 1850. Ultimately, the compromise between slave state and free state didn’t work out. So we had a little unpleasantness for a few years – which some people are still upset about.

        1. Brad Warthen Post author

          Bryan, you probably won’t like this, but I think the sensible position at this time isn’t “Accept it. It’s the law, ” but it’s pretty close. I think the sensible position for now is, “Accept that it is the law, and wait to see how it works. After several years, amend as needed.”

          I think sunsetting it after four years is very unwise. If the nation is unsatisfied with it at that time, you can certainly try again to repeal it. But setting the bar where you have to pass it all over again for it to continue to exist just tilts things too far toward those who lost the argument the first time. We all know that four years from now, there won’t be a president identified with the program using his considerable capital to pass it against the odds. And the odds always are against healthcare reform. It should have happened in the mid-90s. Actually, it should have happened right after WWII, and we should have gone to single-payer. That would have been the rational thing to do. But the ideological, and I believe irrational, resistance to it has always been so powerful.

          What I suggest isn’t a “compromise” in the simplistic sense of a 50 percent, right-down-the-middle, split-the-baby deal. But sometimes splitting the baby is just the same as when Solomon suggested it — a terrible idea. If we’re going to have healthcare reform — defined as moving to a point at which paying for healthcare is no longer a factor in where people decide to work, but is something they will have and not have to wonder about — this is the only vehicle likely to be enacted in our lifetimes.

          We’ve embarked on this huge experiment. We need to give it every chance to work. It would be enormously wasteful to do anything else at this point.

          1. Bryan Caskey

            Don’t get me wrong. I certainly wasn’t suggesting sun-setting the law as an actual compromise. I was just throwing out the first hypothetical that came to mind as an example.

        2. Brad Warthen Post author

          And we tried compromising on slavery for four score and seven, but that wasn’t workable. Lincoln was right. We couldn’t continue half slave, half free.

          1. Doug Ross

            “defined as moving to a point at which paying for healthcare is no longer a factor in where people decide to work, but is something they will have and not have to wonder about ”

            That could have been accomplished very quickly in a way that most of Congress would have voted for. But Obama and the Democrats went for everything – taxes, failed websites, subsidies, Medicaid expansion, mandatory insurance, etc. And then Obama went ahead and ignored the parts of the law that would have caused public sentiment to go against him by delaying the tough stuff.

            Is Obamacare an example of good politics? If so, we’re doomed.

          2. Bryan Caskey

            And I agree. That was kind of the point I was making with slavery. Even though the compromise was hailed as wonderful in 1850, it ultimately proved nothing more than a delay of the inevitable.

            Maybe there’s a parallel with healthcare. Could this halfway government-private insurance market of the ACA be the “Missouri Compromise” of healthcare that is only a temporary solution, but ultimately doomed to fail? Is single payer the equivalent of abolishing slavery?

            Maybe. Or maybe that’s over-dramatizing it.

            I just hope we don’t fight another civil war over it. The last one was unpleasant.

            1. Brad Warthen

              Yes, you’re overdramatizing it.

              Although… The way people on the right utterly delegitimize anything that has to do with Obama, and the way Democrats did the same with anything touched by Bush, the split approaches an absolutism that is weirdly reminiscent of that leading to the Recent Unpleasantness.

              And that is so absurd. Most of the differences between left and right are so very insignificant compared to the disagreement over slavery. It’s embarrassing that people get as worked up as they do.

              The very idea that people would hate each other over their differences regarding something so abstract and (to me) nonsensical as “the size of government” is just appalling…


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