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Statesmanship not Gamesmanship | LynBoyer.net
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Where Life and Leadership Converge

Statesmanship not Gamesmanship

leadership, statesmanship, politicians, Ezra Klein,

Statesmanship not Gamesmanship

A politician thinks about the next elections — the statesman thinks about the next generations.

~James Freeman Clarke

To quote a former President, "Here we go again." Congress is back in session, and Americans who are paying attention hope something will change. I wrote this article in 2012, but it is just as relevant today as it was then. 

Recently I read an article explaining why the current U.S. Congress is the worst congress ever. (Klein, 2012) The article mentioned specific failures of our legislative body and contained a graph comparing the number of public laws passed per session of Congress from 1947 to 2012. With the current Congress three-fourths of the way through its session, it has passed less than half the number of bills of the next least productive Congress in the last 65 years. As Klein mentions, most legislation is passed at the beginning of a session, so this Congress is not likely to reach even the number of bills passed by the previous most unproductive Congress.

The article included another graph illustrating the relative popularity of Congress compared to entities and people such as banks, the oil and gas industry, Paris Hilton, Nixon during Watergate, etc. Congress has an approval rating of 9%— just four percentage points better than Fidel Castro and less than all the other unpopular groups and individuals selected.

Klein quotes Thomas Mann and Norm Ornstein, who have studied Congress, tutored Democratic and Republican legislators, and participated in legislative commissions. They are highly respected scholars and interpreters of the institution who said, “We have been studying Washington politics and Congress for the last 40 years, and never have we seen them this dysfunctional.”

I write about leadership; I usually do not write about politics. However, this discussion led me to consider what I see as a lack of leadership in our country. It is through leadership that the U.S. moves forward.

As I consider the situation, I lament the demise of the word and the practice of statesmanship, which was used to describe a respected government leader.  I remember a time I believed senators, congressmen and congresswomen aspired to that description. Today, I hear only the term politician referring to people in Congress.  The following seems to represent the difference between the two.

  • A politician analyzes poll numbers; a statesman analyzes public good.
  • A politician considers reelection; a statesman considers lifetime achievement.
  • A politician likes to be called crafty; a statesman likes to be called wise.
  • A politician uses government to expand his wealth; a statesman uses government to make the lives of others better.
  • A politician listens to lobbyists; a statesman listens to constituents.
  • A politician manipulates truth; a statesman honors it.
  • A politician spends public money as if it is his own; a statesman spends the public’s money.
  • A politician remembers his promises to the wealthy; a statesman remembers his promises to all.
  • A politician craves visibility; a statesman craves respect.
  • A politician orates; a statesman harangues.
  • A politician looks first to his donors; a statesman looks to his heart.

As I review the differences, I consider the connection with leadership in all areas of work. I see that many leaders have mastered the skills of statesmanship. I wonder if it is possible to return to the days of statesmanship rather than gamesmanship in our government. If so, I wonder how.

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Klein, E. (2012, July 13). 14 Reasons Why This is the Worst Congress Ever. Retrieved from The Washington Post WonkBlog: http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/ezra-klein/wp/2012/07/13/13-reasons-why-this-is-the-worst-congress-ever/

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Comments (4)

  1. Greg Coker

    He hit the nail right on the head. Thanks for posting this.

    1. Lyn Boyer

      Greg, thanks for taking the time to read and comment. With some of our previous discussions, I see that you would agree with my sentiments. The question is, can this change?

  2. Frank Sonnenberg

    Lyn.

    I know you don’t like to write about politics, but I’m SO glad you did. Your post captured what so many people are thinking. Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts with us.

    Best,

    Frank

    1. Lyn Boyer

      Thank you for taking the time to write, Frank. Because I am so aware of the need for leadership, this lack of it seems doubly frustrating.

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