“Politics is the art of the possible, the attainable — the art of the next best.”
“A statesman…must wait until he hears the steps of God sounding through events; then leap up and grasp the hem of his garment.” — Otto von Bismarck
“What do you want me to do?” asked the practical politician seated across the table from me.
“Ha!” I said, finishing a sip of craft beer, “I would need to ask you many more questions before I could even pretend to tell you what to do. I don’t know enough about how today’s practical political game actually works — or enough about your own deeply-held political beliefs for that matter — to give you any real advice.”
“I believe politics is the art of the possible,” said the politician.
If a politician asked for your advice, what would you say? Could you even pretend to walk a mile in their shoes? Where would you begin? What would be your first step?
Remember, with great power comes a great many possibilities — almost too many possibilities for anyone to manage well. If politics is truly the “art of the possible,” how exactly would you know what was possible under the powerful aegis of political control?
In a phrase — a leap of faith.
What is possible in politics (and life) first depends on your deeply-held beliefs. Without your own foundational values, the whims of power will soon become a prevailing wind flickering your candle’s flame to and fro. The trick, instead, is to burn so hot that your fire rises to lick the winds of change.
That’s the “art” of politics in its best sense — to make power serve your ideals instead of your ideals being made to serve power. When great events move the world, great leaders hear God’s footsteps and rise to grasp the hem of his garment. Do these great leaders sometimes trip, slip, stumble and fall short of their task? Sure, but such great men know the secret to seeking a great life: that the only things one never regrets are one’s mistakes.
Yet so many lesser politicians follow a lesser path. A fallen path. A path where they eventually die of a sort of creeping common sense as their flame fades. So many, too many politicians give into Faustian bargains, wherein the promise of power consumes and corrupts their noble dreams. Compromise after compromise of principles is made; sacrifice after sacrifice of values is offered; lie after lie to themselves and others is told — all for the sake of keeping noble dreams alive. Then they begin to notice something has changed if they dare to notice themselves in the mirror at all. Where power began as a means to achieving their noble dreams, power has somehow become the dream itself. Ideals dissolved into hollow pretense, eventually the curse of power fully takes hold — that for every good deed done, two or three “necessary” evils must be committed.
Such is a tale as old as human history itself. Corruption and tyranny are an ever-present threat. As long as human beings continue to grant immense power and impunity to their leaders, there will always be cronies to damn, corruption to root out, establishments to overthrow, and innocent fellows trampled underfoot in the process. Hopefully, we will one day realize the promise of power is one of the oldest temptations known to man, leading to mistake after bloody mistake — though, no doubt, great leaders will continue grasping for the hem of the Lord never regretting the risks.
That said, the next time you feel inspired to damn some practical politician to hell, first question yourself — would I truly behave any differently with political power in such a wicked world? Ask this not as a way of excusing any corrupt power but as a reminder of how power can corrupt anyone, even you. The tyrant in you is the tyrant in me.
Indeed, think of it on a personal level. Like you’re sitting down for a meal. If you had to give a politician some advice, what would you say?
“Hmm, if I had to give you something approximating advice,” I answered the practical politician sitting across the table, “I would have you do these three things — one, do your damnedest to keep your promises; two, be swift to make moves that are good for the country and your constituents, especially if those moves also make you more powerful; and three, look to provide leadership on things the public doesn’t even yet know and events no one fully sees coming other than God himself.”
Joey Clark is a native Alabamian and is currently the host of the radio program News and Views on News Talk 93.1 FM WACV out of Montgomery, AL M-F 9 am-12 noon. His column appears every Tuesday in 1819 News. To contact Joey for media or speaking appearances as well as any feedback, please email email@example.com.
The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of 1819 News. To comment, please send an email with your name and contact information to Commentary@1819news.com.
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