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Kalona, Iowa
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Newspaper Article Archive of
The Kalona News

April 5, 2018 The indispensable craft of the politician
Article Pages -- as published on the The Kalona News website.

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ARTICLE DESCRIPTION:

For the most part, we Americans value expertise. We want our physicians to possess knowledge and experience. We want our lawyers to know the law inside out. We want our clergymen, our engineers, our farmers to bring the kind of proficiency and skill to their work that comes only with familiarity and practice.

So here’s a question. Why is it that the more expertise politicians’ gain in their field, the more we deride them?

Politicians may disappoint us, frustrate us, or even anger us. They certainly make mistakes. But here’s the thing: we cannot solve our problems at any level — local, state or federal — without skilled politicians. They’re indispensable to the system. And the craft of politics requires certain characteristics. Not every politician possesses them, but the good ones — and there are plenty of good politicians — strive for them.

First, they’re attuned to the moods of the people and to shifts in public opinion. They have faith in this country and its future, and they often hold a vision for what its success will look like. They believe it can make progress.

They also know that progress will not come easily. They understand they’ll face setbacks, failure, and hardship, but they persevere in the American way of governing because it can make a lot of things possible. They are pragmatic, and prepared to adjust, compromise, and improvise in order to move policy in the direction they’d like to see it go.

They’re comfortable holding authority and responsibility, and because they recognize that they share these burdens with others, they respect their colleagues. They try to be civil with them, since they understand the dynamic nature of politics — that you don’t have permanent enemies or allies and that your foe one day may be a comrade the next.

Finally, good politicians understand that politics consists of a lot more than running for election. In the end, politics is about striving to make the world, or at least this country, better.

I don’t want to suggest that I think all politicians possess these qualities, or that any politician enjoys them all. Yet these characteristics are what mastery of the craft demands, and they come only with time and experience. Any politician who displays them deserves the same respect we’d give any specialist who has acquired the knowledge, skill, and insight demanded by a complicated, demanding, and meaningful profession.

Lee Hamilton is a senior advisor for the Indiana University Center on Representative Government; a Distinguished Scholar, IU School of Global and International Studies; and a Professor of Practice, IU School of Public and Environmental Affairs. He was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives for 34 years.

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