The Practice of Politics

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Since the election, locals –mostly Republicans, probably in hopes of a negative answer – have been asking whether I’ll continue writing this column. After all, The People have spoken: President Obama gets four more years; same-sex marriage is now legal in several states; Democrats look to have a super-majority in the state legislature; and Prop. 30 passed, raising taxes on the wealthiest Californians to fund budgetary shortfalls in education.

In short, my political Christmas stocking is quite full, thank you, Mitt Romney. What more might I say?

Politics, though, is the gift that keeps on giving. Since election eve, Fox News has offered a fascinating window to The Other Side, inspiring this writer to keep on. And yes, it was easy to spill out a few hundred words every couple of weeks during the presidential campaign. The material was so rich: Tea Partiers’ hysteria over the liberal media’s inaccurate count of Obama supporters when the president had the temerity to come to Corona del Mar for a fundraiser last February; the local Chick-fil-A fluff up over same-sex marriage; et cetera, et cetera. (You can’t make some of this stuff up – which explains why writers with a satirical bent often leave fiction in favor of the fertile fields of contemporary news.)

At their best, however, our quadrennial political campaign spectacles serve to lift us up, moving us to want the country to be and to do better. We Americans love our ideologies, our traditions of taming the wilderness, opening our borders (well, sometimes) to the immigrants who made this country what it is, and spreading the gospel of democracy.

But ideology can only take you only so far. If you doubt this, please see Steven Spielberg’s “Lincoln.” The film covers the last few months of Abraham Lincoln’s life, focusing on his efforts to get the 13th Amendment, which would end slavery for all time, through the House of Representatives. Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation and the Amendment’s subsequent passage are now viewed as one of the high points of American history. (Who could’ve been against it — excepting slaveholders whose livelihoods were at stake? Can economics be justified by the owning another person?)

In 1865, though, the issue was debatable. Indeed, Lincoln lacked the necessary votes to prevail, and much of the film is devoted to the arm-twisting offers of patronage, appeals to the soul, and sheer intimidation that were employed to get the deal done.

As David Brooks, of the New York Times, points out in his recent op-ed, “Why We Love Politics,” the movie “shows that you can do more good in politics than in any other sphere. You can end slavery, open opportunity and fight poverty. But you can achieve these things only if you are willing to stain your own character in order to serve others – if you are willing to bamboozle, trim, compromise, and be slippery and hypocritical.”

Lincoln was willing to do these things, though today he is remembered for his ideals.

So as our politicians, newly elected and veteran, now set about the unglamorous work of actually governing, I think it’s important to keep putting words into print, to hold our politicians to account and to remind them that they work for us.

Our legislators’ most immediate unpleasant task has to do with money: how to raise it, how to spend it. Our local representatives are various stages of contortions as to how to go about this.

In his newsletter of November 13, Rep. John Campbell (R-45th Congressional District) fears that California’s Democratic super-majority may portend a national decline into socialism, confessing, somewhat histrionically, in my opinion, “I fall to my knees to pray that this axiom is not true in this instance.”

Campbell entitled that newsletter “Compromise,” but his observations on the subject look to this writer to be a tired retread of rigid GOP principles. I remember calling Campbell’s office after Obama’s election in 2008 to remind him that his reliably conservative district (the old 48th) had gone for the president over Republican John McCain. Would Campbell be willing to modify some of his stands, to listen to other of his constituents, I wondered.

“We have our principles,” I was told, somewhat primly, in my opinion.

If Campbell wasn’t willing to compromise then, he’s not likely to do so now.

Dana Rohrabacher (R-48th Congressional District) signed the Grover Norquist anti-tax pledge. I’m awaiting his reply as to whether he is among the Republicans who are willing to reconsider that pledge in the service of compromise. Ditto with Newport’s assemblyman in Sacramento, Allan Mansoor (R-68th). Norquist made the odd comment on CNN-TV earlier this week that some Republicans were thinking “impure thoughts on national TV” about raising taxes. Impure thoughts? The practice of politics is, and always has been, impure, a messy amalgam of ideals and serving the best interests of the country.

It’s time for Campbell, Rohrabacher, and Mansoor to revisit how politics is practiced. They could begin by taking a couple of hours to see the thought-provoking film, “Lincoln.”

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