Politics Shapes Government
Sam Gallo, National Chairman Emeritus, Chairman, Conservative Party, Louisiana
In a democracy, the line between politics and government is difficult to define. Politics profoundly shapes the character of government, and government profoundly affects every individual in the United States at the local, state and national level. Government, in turn, shapes politics.
We need to distinguish between government and politics. Politics, essentially, is the process of selecting and electing the men and women who, as representatives of the citizens, manage the public affairs of the nation at the local, state and national level.
Government is the actual management of those affairs. An incident illustrates both the difference between politics and government and the relationship between them.
A businessman asked the administrative assistant to a United States Senator about the probable fate of a bill which the business community generally regarded as economically unsound. The aide replied: "The Senator is against the bill. He will oppose it on the floor of the Senate. But I am afraid he is not going to get much help. The bill will pass by a substantial majority."
As the businessman turned to leave, the Senator's aide added: "The trouble with most businessmen is that they are not doing very much in politics. If they would get active, and get some people elected who would pay some attention to them, there might be a different story when a bill like this comes along. "Businessmen neglect politics and then deplore the passage of unsound legislation."
Many Forces Affect Government
The basic philosophy and attitudes of the American people ultimately determine the solutions to critical governmental questions, such as:
What is the proper dividing line between government and private action? What should be the relationship between the states and local communities and the national government? What forms of taxation will best allow maximum economic growth?
Every individual has a responsibility for studying basic issues such as these, for observing and analyzing the operations of government, and for expressing informed views on proposed governmental proposals and actions to his friends and neighbors, and to those who have been elected to conduct his government for him.
But government is also shaped by the philosophies of those who are selected and elected by their fellow citizens to represent them. They translate the views of the majority into specific governmental action. Inevitably their own views color that translation.
A look at any given Congress, for example, will disclose many senators and representatives who have followed a "conservative" philosophy. Others have been just as consistently "liberal." Each of them has chosen to build his career around basic articles of faith.
Elections Are at the Heart of Politics
Too many people tend to brush off the actions of Congress, or of state legislatures, or of county councils with the phrase, "It's all politics."
What do they mean?
They could mean a congressman voted for a bill because he thought approval of the measure would gain votes among his constituents. A state legislator voted against a bill that was opposed by some influential groups because he knew they would support him in his next campaign for re-election. A member of a county council paid what is commonly called a "political debt" stemming from support he received in a previous political campaign.
The adage that "the first duty of a politician is to be reelected" is based on hard realities. But its significance is easily misinterpreted. It does not necessarily mean politicians lack integrity. Many politicians have developed the fine art of compromise on the unessential while adhering steadfastly to the principles in which they believe. None of them can ignore elections, however.
Politicians are a cross-section of America. Some are good, some are bad, some are indifferent. Some are opportunists and others will not compromise their principles. Like other Americans, they want to keep their jobs or get better ones. The county attorney wants to be governor. The governor would like to go to the Senate. Many senators would not be averse to sitting in the White House.
Despite these very human ambitions, however, many politicians with a sound economic philosophy have had the courage in their campaigns for election or re-election to advance this philosophy with all the vigor and sincerity at their command. Perhaps they won; perhaps they lost. If they lost, a soul-searching question is in order:
Could they have won if politically nonactive men of management had known how to be politically effective, and had put that knowledge to good use in supporting their campaigns? The great majority of people today are "political consumers." Their votes are the currency with which they buy the packaged candidates and platforms of one party or the other. They do not help determine to any appreciable extent what goes into those packages.
To become more than a "consumer" in politics, it is necessary to know something about how politics is organized and how it operates. It will be especially helpful to those who say in effect, "I want to be politically active. But how? Where do I start? What can I do?" …Next month, stay tuned.