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Opinion

Statesmanship is a matter of character


  • By The Newnan Times-Herald
  • |
  • Jan. 12, 2021 - 6:49 PM

Statesmanship is a matter of character

Lawrence W. Reed, a resident of Newnan, is president emeritus of the Foundation for Economic Education. His most recent book is “Was Jesus a Socialist?” He can be reached at lreed@fee.org .

“If you stand for nothing, you’ll fall for anything.” Whoever said that should get a Nobel Prize for wisdom.

In all walks of life, politics included, an honorable person should stand for principles rooted firmly in truth and consistency. He should support policies that advance those principles, and compromise only when compromise is required to move things in the right direction. Before we can expect politicians to be principled, however, we must insist they be men and women of character.

A statesman (man or woman) in government is a politician with character, which is to say that character is what separates a politician from a statesman. Character — and I mean the good kind — consists of such traits as honesty; humility; patience; courage; responsibility; faithfulness; gratitude; a long-term focus; and respect for other people’s choices, rights and property.

Being of good character, statesmen don’t seek public office for personal gain, public attention or to satisfy a lust for power. They usually are people who take time out from productive careers of accomplishment temporarily to serve the public. They don’t have to work for government because they can’t do anything else.

When a statesman gets elected, he doesn’t forget the public-spirited citizens who sent him to office and become a mouthpiece for the permanent bureaucracy or some special interest that bankrolled his campaign.

Because they seek the truth, statesmen are more likely to do what is right than what may be politically popular at the moment. You know where they stand because they say what they mean and they mean what they say.

Statesmen do not engage in class warfare, race-baiting or other divisive tactics that pull people apart. They do not buy votes with tax dollars. They don’t make promises they can’t keep or intend to break. A statesman doesn’t try to pull himself up by dragging somebody else down, and he doesn’t try to convince people they’re victims just so he can posture as their savior. You can’t be a demagogue and a statesman at the same time.

Politicians think that they’re smart enough to plan other people’s lives; statesmen are wise enough to understand what utter folly such arrogant attitudes really are.

Smart people are skeptical of the expansion of concentrated state power because they know history, economics and human nature. They place a high priority on character and refuse to support politicians without it. They don’t allow such politicians to buy them off with other people’s money.

Are you “bought and paid for” by manipulative politicians who give you stuff that doesn’t belong either to them or to you? Is your vote for sale to the highest bidder? Or do you endorse more government simply because that’s where your bread and butter come from? If yes, remove that albatross from your life as soon as you can. It’s sinful and immoral. Think and vote responsibly, not just for your own personal gain.

All over the world today, we seem to have an overabundance of politicians and a shortage of statesmen. That, unfortunately, is a big reason we have an overabundance of bad government — with all the injustices, tyranny and poverty that it brings.

Lawrence W. Reed, a resident of Newnan, is president emeritus of the Foundation for Economic Education. His most recent book is “Was Jesus a Socialist?” He can be reached at lreed@fee.org .