Friday, December 28, 2007

Pursuing noble causes

Some may belittle politics, but we who are engaged in it know that it is where people stand tall-and although I know it has its many harsh contentions, it is still the arena that sets the heart beating a little faster. And if it is, on occasions, the place of low skulduggery, it is more often the place for the pursuit of noble causes.

-The Rt. Honourable Tony Blair, in his farewell remarks to the House of Commons

Tony Blair and myself do not share the same political philosophy, but if his farewell remarks are any indication, I think we do share a similar outlook on the nature and purpose of public life. As regular readers probably know, I have often expressed a desire to run for public office. I am frequently asked by well-meaning friends why it is that I would consider actually seeking political office when our government at both the State and federal level is filled with "partisanship" and corruption. Partisanship is a natural outgrowth of liberty, and as James Madison once said "liberty is to faction as air is to fire." As for corruption, there is as much of it in other areas of life as there is in the political realm (and probably considerably less)-we just see the political side of human corruption to a much greater degree because of press coverage and the blogosphere today.

That is as it should be, because when there is real corruption in government people need to know about it and the rotten apples need to be removed from the barrel-which is a big part of what I do and what political bloggers around the State and the Union do every day when we write about the things we see and hear. It should be remembered, however, that for every corrupt person in politics, there are ten others who entered politics for all the right reasons and who stay in public life for the sheer desire to serve. Realistically, it cannot be said that people get into politics for the money-most will never run for federal office, and short of Congress there is little in politics that pays very well. Are some folks "on the take?" Without question-but many others are not.

From a Tennessee perspective, that means that for every Jerry Cooper or
Rob Briley or Jimmy Naifeh there is a John Mark Windle or a George Fraley or a Stratton Bone, and for every Chris Newton there is a Frank Niceley or a Stacey Campfield or a Bill Dunn or a Ron Ramsey -decent people who (whether you like their political views or not) entered politics to be servants instead of being served. I believe that a lot of folks understand that, too-and that is why people will moan and whine about how terrible politicians are-except their own legislator or Congressman.

Many people today complain of what they view as excessive partisanship. Political parties and their competition for power are a reality in any healthy free society. Sometimes our parties nominate people we don't think the best of, but there are goals which are much larger than a single election cycle or a single candidate. I have witnessed and been a part of many losing campaigns, and a few winners where I occasionally had to hold my nose. Sacrifices sometimes must be made so that one day you or your party or your candidates will have their day in the sun-and if a person is patient that day will come.

During the 1980's, much ado was made out of what appeared to be a very conflictual relationship between
President Reagan and the Democratic Speaker of the House, Tip O'Neill. What many people didn't know was that in spite of all the surface acrimony, Reagan and O'Neill gathered regularly at the White House for a poker game, and the business of the country kept running because these two men who held very different views got together and hammered out a way to do business over seven-card draw and whiskey. The two became very good friends, and Reagan and O'Neill are remembered today as one of the greatest Presidents and one of the greatest Speakers of the House in the modern era, respectively.

Politics isn't a bed of roses, and it is not intended to be all fun and games. People disagree, and sometimes parties disagree among themselves. When the chips are down and people need to stand up for what they believe in, the real leaders do that almost to a man or woman. There is a time to fight and a time to hammer out a way to do business, and the challenge of politics is to know when the time is right for each of these things. Tony Blair is right-for all of our complaints about how bad politicians are, when our history books are written, who are the people we are most likely to remember as the great men and women in modern times?

If I ever do run for office, my prayer is that one day it can be said of me that whatever I managed to do, I did with the people I represented at heart, and that when the time came to stand, that I stood as tall as my stature would allow. I have no desire to be remembered as great, I just want to serve-and that is all that most people who enter the arena ever desire to do.

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