of Statesmen & Politicians

     According to the World Book Dictionary, a politician is "A person who gives much time to political affairs; a person who is experienced in politics." A statesman is defined as "A person who is skilled in the management of public or national affairs." The difference in definitions is subtle, but the difference in practice is enormous.

     To use a football analogy, both Marion Campbell (former coach of the Atlanta Falcons) and Tom Landry (former coach of the Dallas Cowboys) were experienced coaches, and they devoted a great deal of time to their profession. Using the criteria for a politician, Campbell and Landry were equals. But while a politician is described as "experienced," a statesman is described as "skilled." Using that definition, Campbell was not in the same league as Landry.

     We are suffering from a drought of statesmen and a flood of politicians. It's like a diet full of calories with almost no nutrition. Statesmen are like vegetables. Many people don't like them, but they're good for you. Politicians are like too much ice cream. Yummy. I'll worry about the stomach ache later.

     The founders of this nation were not politicians. Many, like John Adams and James Madison had almost no political experience when they were elected to serve in the Continental Congress. Experience, no. But they had education, ideas, and conviction. Madison's silent labor and Adams' brilliant oratory did what all of the "experience" in the world could not. They gave us liberty and the most brilliantly devised system of self-government in history.

     Simple definitions aside, what is the difference between a statesman and a politician? A politician works with details. A statesman works with ideas. A politician debates over whether to raise the minimum wage by 50 cents instead of by 40 cents. A statesman, on the other hand, asks "If the government has the power to dictate the least I can make, don't they also have the power to dictate the most I can make?"

     A politician debates the cost of a plan. The statesmen questions the wisdom of the plan. A politician tells his constituents what he did for them. A statesman doesn't worry about what he can do for his constituents, because he's too busy trying to guarantee a future for his constituent's grandchildren.

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