The recent Indiana primaries, along with the umpteen-million political ads on the radio, have me thinking about politics and more specifically the term “political.” You hear this term used all the time. Someone made a “purely political” decision. Someone else is “playing politics.” Considering the fact that all these “someones” are politicians, should we really be surprised at all this politicking? What’s so bad about being political, especially when it’s your job?
I looked up the definition of the term and found that “political” refers to “the theory and practice of government, especially the activities associated with governing, with obtaining legislative or executive power, or with forming and running organizations connected with government.” Well, that doesn’t sound too bad, now does it?
If being political is just the “practice of government,” then wherein lies the problem? I think the problem is that when you have two parties with two different ideas on how to do something, be they individuals or in our case two opposing political parties, someone has to win and someone has to lose. Today for instance, I desperately wanted Jim to help me clean the house. And he graciously agreed. I was overjoyed…right up until the point when he suggested we clean the house in a way not normally practiced by myself. I had a decision to make: take away his mop and say “Have fun mowing the yard!” or do things his way. Point is, we couldn’t do it both ways. And the same is true in government. There is only so much compromise that is possible. One side gets their way and one side does not. Too often, I think people use the phrase “playing politics” to describe a decision one side makes that they simply don’t agree with.
In a country as large and as diverse as the United States, there is little hope of complete agreement. After all, that is sort of the point of our founding the political system we have, where differing points of view can be freely expressed. But that doesn’t mean that all those points of view are going to make their way into law. When those views come into conflict, one view will win out over the other.
So when we see politicians make certain decisions for “purely political” reasons, maybe we should remember that, well, they are politicians after all. And when we want to accuse them of “playing politics,” perhaps we should consider that both sides are “playing” that game, whether or not our side has won the latest round.