#42: Politicians and Statemen

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #42, on the subject of Politicians and Statemen.

19th century American James Freeman Clarke left some memorable and sometimes Tweetable quotes behind.  Perhaps the most famous of these reads

A politician thinks of the next election. A statesman, of the next generation.

  He was apparently not a politician, being a clergyman, educator, and activist reformer.  He may have been a statesman.  However, it is clear that he approved statesmen over politicians.

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I read something recently that brought the quote back to mind, causing me to wonder who in the nation today are the statesmen and who the mere politicians.  Of course, that’s not simple to assess.  If we look at the Democrats, we see a lot of policies that seem to be aimed at pleasing voters–free or low-cost healthcare, food and welfare programs, as well as policies to protect minority benefits.  It has been argued, and not entirely unreasonably, that this party is attempting to buy votes with government money and other generosity.  On the other hand, despite the fact that the Republicans pioneered such policies as protecting the rights of blacks and protecting the environment, the Democrats have managed to make those their issues, becoming the “progressive party” after for decades being the party of oppression with people like George Wallace spearheading the fight against civil rights.  Democrats are the ones who push for taking steps against climate change (although Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger has spoken on that subject as well), insisting that present economic hardships, whatever they might be, are small compared to a potential future crisis.

Of course, many argue that the Republicans are using government money to buy the votes–and the pockets–of big business and Wall Street.  Forget that Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton has close ties to the financial markets and backers from that group, it is maintained that the Republican party is bought and paid for by big business.  On the other hand, the Republican party coalition (we talked much about how coalition government works at the party level in the United States) contains several groups that focus on principles:  the pro-life coalition fighting against the rampant killing of the unborn, the gun lobby focusing on Second Amendment rights, Christian groups upset about First Amendment protections in the changing moral landscape, Originalists pressing for the America of our ancestors.  These are issues focused on the future and the betterment of the nation.  You might not agree about them, but they are the thoughts of statesmen looking to improve the nation, not of politicians seeking to buy votes.

Of course, both parties are packed with politicians.  There is a degree to which they have chosen the party with which they are most in agreement, but also a degree to which they mold their own messages to appeal to the voters of that party.  Politicians are always thinking of the next election; the next generation is a distant second in most cases.

However, what intrigued me about this article is not the politicians but the voters.  In brief, correspondents for a news organization swapped jobs for a week–the one covering the Republicans tackling the Democrats, the one working the Democrats turning to the Republicans.  They both noticed the same difference in the voters.

Republican voters frequently talked about issues.  They were invested in questions like originalism, abortion, homosexual marriage, gun rights, free speech, et cetera.  They wanted to know what candidates were going to do to protect and advance these principles, these policy positions, for the perceived good of the nation.

Democratic voters by and large were concerned about their own needs:  what was the candidate going to do about my welfare check, my medical care, my housing problems.  The Democratic voters were personally invested in putting people in office who would give them what they perceived as their wants and needs.  They were strong-arming their candidates into that supposed position of promising giveaways.  They, in the main, fit the stereotype Republicans have of Democrats, of trading the future of the country for a paycheck.

It seems that whatever we can say about the politicians, among the voters, the Republicans are the statesmen trying to think of the next generation, and the Democrats are the politicians extracting promises for the next election.

This may be too harsh.  After all, it does appear demographically that poorer voters tend to vote Democratic, and if we consider Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, we recognize that people who have trouble putting food in their stomachs and a roof over their heads don’t care so much about such esoteric questions as the rights of the unborn or freedom of expression or the right to bear arms.  They care about meeting those fundamental needs.  One of our founding fathers quipped that the democracy would end the moment the voters realized that they could all vote themselves money from the Federal coffers.  That’s been happening for quite a while, but the situation is worsening.  It’s probably also the reason why early voter regulations required that the voter prove he had real property and an education–that he was intelligently invested in the future of the country.  There are problems with that arrangement, certainly, in its tendency to maintain the status quo; but there is also something to be said for its ability to resist the tendency toward candystore giveaway politicking.  The fact that poor people are more interested in what the government is going to do to alleviate their situation and rich people are more interested in what the government is going to do to ensure long term economic and social stability is perfectly logical.  It also suggests that the former breeds politicians and the latter statesmen, at least to the degree of short-term versus long-term economic stability.

Republican politicians might be merely politicians, and there might be statesmen among the Democratic politicians, but if we want the party whose members are most concerned about the longer-term future, it might be the Republicans.  In contrast to the politicking for personal gain among the Democrats, the Republican membership might be the statesmen.

Assuming statesmen are still to be preferred….

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