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Posts published in “Political Words”



One of the older print books in my household collection - old enough that I bought the paperback new for 75 cents - is called Coup d’Etat: A Practical Handbook, a Brilliant Guide for Taking Over a Nation.” It’s a manual for a do-it-yourselfer: Here’s how to forcibly take over a country - preferably a less-technically developed one.

The author, Edward Luttwak, is a serious researcher on military and other history, and has written among other things a highly-regarded study of the strategy the Roman Empire used to grow itself, as well as a guide to military strategy used in armed forces training. Coup d’Etat was an unusual case. Opinion writer David Frum called it “that astounding thing: a great work of political science that is also a hilarious satire.” And it sort of is: Serious, factual and well-researched (he includes detailed lists of recent coups, successful and failed, referenced in the body of the book).

If on the surface it seems almost like an invitation to anarchy, the introduction (written by another writer) makes the case that “this book is as much a matter for the prevention of the coup as for initiating one.”

(It was not, by the way, the first book on the subject. There was at least one other as well, Technique of the Coup d’Etat, by Curzio Malaparte.)

Overthrows along the lines of what we might consider a coup go back to the days of ancient empires, but the modern form of the coup, in Luttwak;’s telling, is a modern thing, made possible in the last couple hundred years or so by modern governmental bureaucracy and by modern communications and transportation. He comes up with this definition: “A coup consists of the infiltration of a small but critical segment of the state apparatus, which is then used to displace the government from its control of the remainder.” (The term means in English a blow against the state.) It does not have to be violent (though it might be), and it need not rely on support from the constituency (though it might obtain that).

That gives the sense that a coup is a long shot, that a number of elements have to fall into place to make it work, and Luttwak seems to make that case; his basic list of coups and attempted coups from 1945 to 1967 includes about as many failures as successes. He suggests that coups are much more likely to succeed when a set of preconditions are in place, such as “economic backwardness,” political independence (no close entangling alliances) of the target country, and a basic unity of the country (it’s not likely to fall into pieces under pressure). It also depends on the standing, non-political, parts of the government not being strong enough to push back against an illegal change in leadership. They work best, then, in developing countries where institutions and economies are not large and stable. (They also may be on the decline; 2018 was only the second year a century - 2007 was the first - to report no coup attempts internationally.)

But to be clear: A coup is not the same as opposition. A coup is an abrupt, generally unexpected, wrenching of the power of a state from whoever was legitimately installed to lead it. Luttwak refers to using the tools of the state to aggressively change its leadership, but that’s not the same as changing leadership using legitimate procedures. The rise of Adolf Hitler in Germany, for example, wasn’t quite a coup despite all of the activities of Brownshirts and others in the street; he was handed high office in that country according to constitutional procedures, at least at first.

The charge of one side or another fomenting a “coup” turns up periodically in recent American politics. On unusual occasions there were rumblings to effect from the left, about Republican efforts to kick out President Barack Obama (or, before that, Bill Clinton). As determined as some of those efforts were, none rose to the level of a coup; even the impeachment effort against Clinton was undertaken

Former television personality Bill O’Reilly wrote, for example, about what he described as a coup attempt targeting President Donald Trump: [] “The story of our time is the coup d’état that is being planned in this country. Sounds pretty bad, doesn’t it? In most countries, coup d’états happen when the military tries to overthrow the government. The United States military would never do that… but the national media certainly would.” News organizations, in other words, were trying to engineer a coup.

But even if you assume they were trying that, the description misuses the word “coup.” There is no forcible overthrow here; the governmental system of elections and succession remained in place, and O’Reilly wasn’t really trying to contend that it hadn’t. He was comparing criticism by news organizations to a violent military overthrow of the government, but the two things are wholly different; the most news organizations could do would be to influence the opinions of various sectors of the public.

A coup is not criticism or opposition. It is an illegitimate seizure of political power.

On that basis, it might be worth reviewing what the Russian government was trying to accomplish in the American elections of 2016. That did not involve direct seizure of the governmental levers of power. But, as a quiet, well-placed attempt to grab power, it comes close to meeting the definition of coup. Whether successful or not, being a subject for further review.

People of means

Howard Schultz, founder and CEO at Starbucks for many years and in 2019 a prospective candidate for the presidency, has made billions of dollars in income and was reported to have a net worth of $3.4 billion. He has objected, however, to the label “billionaire.”

In February 2019, he was quoted in an interview with journalist Andrew Ross Sorkin: “The moniker billionaire now has become the catchphrase. I would re-phrase that and I would say that people of means have been able to leverage their wealth and their interests in ways that are unfair. And I think that speaks to the inequality, but it also directly speaks to the special interests that are paid for by people of wealth and corporations that are looking for influence. And they have such unbelievable influence on the politicians who are steeped in the ideology of both parties.”

Up until then, of course, the word “billionaire” had been widely accepted in common usage (where accurate, in referring to people with a net worth of $1 billion or more) and had not been in dispute. The pushback occurred solely because it was people with such extravagant wealth were no longer being viewed, widely, nearly so favorably.

Someday before long, we're going to be witness to the first trillionaires - which, considering the immense slice of global wealth such a person would hold, would be a scary prospect for many people. (Remember, there was no such thing as a billionaire until just about a century ago, when in September 1916 a gaggle of newspaper reports declared that stock and other holdings had boosted John D. Rockefeller above mere millionaire status; some other estimates give the first-B status to automaker Henry Ford around 1925.)

As a presidential prospect, he understandably wanted to try some reframing.

That may not be especially easy.

In one of its weekly reader contests, the news magazine The Week asked, “Please come up with a catchier term to describe billionaires who’d rather not be called billionaires.”

Third place: “The fun percent.” Second place: “The gilt-ridden.” First place: “The affluence burdened.”

You can try to change the words, but the underlying facts remain.

Death tax


“Economists tend to see the estate tax as one of the most economically harmful taxes per dollar of revenue raised. By raising the estate tax threshold and ultimately repealing the estate tax outright, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act would remove an impediment to economic growth.” - Jared Walczak, senior policy analyst, Tax Foundation

We support the total abolition of inheritance taxes. - Idaho Republican Party platform

Frank Luntz, in his book Words that Matter: “Sure, some object that the term ‘death tax’ is inflammatory, but think about it. What was the event that triggered its collection? You pay a sales tax when you are involved with a sale. You pay an income tax when you earn income. And when you die – if you’ve been financially successful – and forgotten to hire really smart and expensive accountants – you may also pay a tax. So what else would you call that, if not a death tax?”

The short answer is, an “inheritance tax” or an “estate tax,” because that is what is actually taxed. Death is not taxed, nor do 99 American deaths (or more) out of 100. Luntz’ statement here ranks high among the most dishonest pieces of political gobbledygook ever - quite an achievement.

“Death tax” suggests that a tax will be imposed on anyone who dies. It does not.
That’s true most simply because the dead person isn’t around anymore to pay it – the heirs do.

This is also dishonest because it is actually so limited in scope.

The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities points out that “Only the estates of the wealthiest 0.2 percent of Americans — roughly 2 out of every 1,000 people who die — owe any estate tax.” And it’s not as though all of that inheritance is seized: “Among the few estates nationwide that owe any estate tax in 2017, the effective tax rate — that is, the share of the estate’s value paid in taxes — is less than 17 percent, on average, according to the Tax Policy Center.”

Luntz makes a passing feint at this with his reference to “financially successful,” but the fact is that if you’re not inheriting about $5.5 million, you don’t pay this tax at all. Are you not a millionaire? This tax does not apply to you. It applies only to the wealthy.

And even then, only in some cases. Note another of Luntz’ passing phases the one about “eally smart and expensive accountants.” Many people who would quality for paying the tax do not because they’ve apportioned their wealth in creative enough ways to avoiding it – and the tax code is larded with such loopholes.

The argument is often made about small businesses and especially farms that family members would like to pass on to children. Decades of desperate searches by anti-estate tax advocates have come up dry in finding instances. But then, these are areas where political compromises and levels can be had. The $5.5 million cutoff level, for example, is somewhat arbitrary, and efforts have already been made in the law to allow for keeping family businesses in the family. If need be, more can be done.

Some apologists for the tax like Walczak try to make the argument that the tax somehow constrains the economy. What it does is concentrate wealth into ever fewer hands, and concentrate it in the ranks of those who did nothing to generate it: The heirs are not business founders or economy expanders. There’s no social interest in pouring ever more money into their ranks. There’s a considerable social benefit to restraining it.

Deep state


On January 2, 2018, Virginia Senator Mark Warner released a tweet saying, “Slandering the Department of Justice’s career law enforcement and intel professionals as the 'deep state' — whatever that actually means — is dangerous and unpresidential.”

It was only one of the more recent uses of the phrase, but one of the first to include the cautionary comment “whatever that actually means.”

As with "The Swamp", Warner’s implicit question here is sound and almost impossible to answer.

Warner’s tweet came a few hours after President Donald Trump, in one of his many tweets, referred to the “Deep State Justice Dept”. His former presidential campaign opponent Evan McMullin prompted tweeted that “Saying nothing of the fact that the 'Deep State Justice Department' is run by Trump’s own appointees, his effort to use its power to punish his political rivals and protect him from law enforcement is an abuse of power.”

So again, what is the Deep State?

The Deep State Twitter handle defines it as “typically influential members of government agencies or the military to be involved in the secret manipulation or control of government policy.” Meaning … the Trump Administration?
Radio talker Rush Limbaugh has called it “embeds in the deep state at the Pentagon, State Department, various intelligence agencies.” (That has an ominous ring, no doubt intentionally: These people are embeds reporting back and responsible to, who exactly? That’s left unsaid.)

Writing in Politico, Michael Crowley argued that “The Deep State is real,” noted that “Political scientists and foreign policy experts have used the term deep state for years to describe individuals and institutions who exercise power independent of—and sometimes over—civilian political leaders.” For decades the concept, if not the exact phrase, was more commonplace on the left than on the right.

In fact, he said, “Tufts University international law professor Michael J. Glennon’s 2014 book, National Security and Double Government. Glennon observed that Obama had campaigned against Bush-era surveillance and security policies in 2008 but acquiesced to many of them as president—suggesting a national-security apparatus that holds sway even over the elected leaders notionally in charge of it.”

There is something here: Institutions like individual people do tend to fight back when they’re assaulted, and that Trump Administration has seen a good deal of that dynamic. But remember that government, even the federal government and even its institutional agencies, aren’t monochrome, and the people in them might devil George W. Bush in one administration, Barack Obama in another and Donald Trump in a third. It’s part of the normal dynamic, not a matter of “embeds” or conspiracies.

Whether that’s right or wrong can depend on where you sit, ideologically. But there’s nothing “deep” about it.

‘I believe her’


Once again, as this is written, people are divided into those who "believe her" and those who ...

And again we have a failure to communicate.

The he said/she said in this most recent case is that of Brett Kavanaugh, the nominee to the U.S. Supreme Court, and Christine Blasey Ford, who has said he sexually assaulted her years ago when both were teenagers. He has denied it.

What to do about this is the subject of a heated political fight, of course. But the language framing is significant and central: To say that "I believe her" is to take a side, as was the case in many other instances especially in recent years but going back decades through Clarence Thomas/Anita Hill and before that.

The language is problematic because it comes as a reaction to an atmosphere of dismissal.

For we know not how long many, many women have found faced a stone wall when raising a complaint about a sexual/social problem - harassment, assault, rape. Too many have reported not being taken seriously, having their charges dismissed out of hand. The evidence of that reality, and of the hiding and shielding of vast numbers of truly criminal cases, is far too sweeping to be rejected any more. The rejection of mass numbers of cases, a rejection of so many women fearing responses ranging from disbelief to harassment to terrorizing, long has been one of the bigger social ills in American society (and in many other places). It merits decisive correction.

Does that mean every accusation automatically should be taken as hard fact? There lies a problem, because while the strong probability is that the great majority of these accusations point to a real (and criminal) event, not every single one does. And, as one meme suggested, the accuser should not be deemed to be a liar until proven truthful.

Maybe we should re-describe this a bit.

I believe the sun will rise in the morning because it always has (in my lifetime and long before) and because there's a sound empirical explanation for why it will. If someone told me they had witnessed a bank robbery earlier in the day, I wouldn't dismiss it out of hand - the description could be correct - but it could be mistaken. Or maybe (for reasons I can't even fathom) the person telling the story just made it up. Not likely, but possible. This is why we don't ordinarily convict in criminal cases based on one person's say-so alone.

So what does it mean, in cases like Kavanaugh-Ford, to say "I believe" the accusation?

What we might say instead is something a little more nuanced, albeit a little less (in some quarters) satisfying. In Kavanaugh-Ford, there is no (as typically there is not) any digital or other conclusive external evidence of what happened; all we know and all we are likely to know comes through the lenses of the two people involved, and possibly one additional witness.

That does not make it an insoluble situation. Ford has produced records from years ago, long predating the Kavanaugh nomination, in which she described the event in similar terms to a therapist, and other people who knew her says she spoke of it long ago. She took and passed a lie detector test (an indicator of willingness to confirm forthrightness, however valid the usefulness of the test may be). Her description was clear and specific and evidently consistent. His account seems marred by some possible inconsistencies and lack of clarity. This doesn't add up to a perfectly certain result, but it does bend the needle of probability more in her direction than in his.

Accusation should not amount to conviction, in the case of sexual assault any more than it does in murder. But that doesn't mean the accusation, if the basic facts and context hold together, shouldn't be taken seriously and acted upon.

Do I take Ford's contention seriously - seriously enough to at least throw strong doubt in the wisdom of a confirmation to a lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court?

Yes, certainly. Barring additional information to the contrary, it clearly meets that test.

Sovereign citizen


The phrase “sovereign citizen” sounds in its way innocuous, even an expression of basic Americanism - of the idea that the highest office one can hold in the United States is that of citizen.

Many people who aren’t familiar with the SC “movement” maybe suckered in by that. But among people who aren’t simply throwing language around loosely, and who are serious about it, “sovereign citizen” carries a very specific meaning. And it’s ominous.

There’s no central SC organization, or even much of a central contact point; its message is sent out in a diffuse network, carried (in the manner of a mosquito) by people who claim a special insight into the conspiratorial origins of the country. There being no core doctrine or document to quote from them, let’s try the Southern Poverty Law Center’s description of how they view things:

“At some point in history, sovereigns believe, the American government set up by the founding fathers — with a legal system the sovereigns refer to as "common law" — was secretly replaced by a new government system based on admiralty law, the law of the sea and international commerce. Under common law, or so they believe, the sovereigns would be free men. Under admiralty law, they are slaves, and secret government forces have a vested interest in keeping them that way. Some sovereigns believe this perfidious change occurred during the Civil War, while others blame the events of 1933, when the U.S. abandoned the gold standard. Either way, they stake their lives and livelihoods on the idea that judges around the country know all about this hidden government takeover but are denying the sovereigns' motions and filings out of treasonous loyalty to hidden and malevolent government forces.”

The theory gets a lot more elaborate.

You may find in some SC circles (and other circles in their neighborhood) a lot of interest in gold hoarding and the gold standard.

There’s a reason: Many SC advocates believe the end of the gold standard led to the federal government secretly selling the American people into de facto slavery as a prop for the currency. The fact that baby names on birth certificates ordinarily are written in capital letters is held to have a deep significance (its identity is not your identity, in rough terms) as well.

No, I’m not making this up, but they are.

And so what,you ask? Here’s the Federal Bureau of Investigation:

Sovereign citizens are anti-government extremists who believe that even though they physically reside in this country, they are separate or “sovereign” from the United States. As a result, they believe they don’t have to answer to any government authority, including courts, taxing entities, motor vehicle departments, or law enforcement.
This causes all kinds of problems—and crimes. For example, many sovereign citizens don’t pay their taxes. They hold illegal courts that issue warrants for judges and police officers. They clog up the court system with frivolous lawsuits and liens against public officials to harass them. And they use fake money orders, personal checks, and the like at government agencies, banks, and businesses.
That’s just the beginning. Not every action taken in the name of the sovereign citizen ideology is a crime, but the list of illegal actions committed by these groups, cells, and individuals is extensive (and puts them squarely on our radar). In addition to the above, sovereign citizens:
Commit murder and physical assault;
Threaten judges, law enforcement professionals, and government personnel;
Impersonate police officers and diplomats;
Use fake currency, passports, license plates, and driver’s licenses; and
Engineer various white-collar scams, including mortgage fraud and so-called “redemption” schemes.

In January 2017 a New Hampshire legislator, Richard Marple, tried to introduce a measure intended to fine state agencies $10,000 per instance if they “don’t buy into sovereigns’ legal make believe.” Such as? One story notes "The bill refers to 'sovereigns' as though they were a legitimate legal class, and requires 'all corporations to disclose all elements of any contract,' 'particularly those contracts involving an ens legis or strawman'.”

The terminology is an exercise in pretzel logic, unworthy of your time.

If you hear the phrase “sovereign citizen”, you might ask:
Do you mean by that an informal sense that citizens should be treated with dignity? Or are you talking about a truly bizarre conspiracy theory? There’s quite a difference.



On September 7, Fox News host Tucker Carlson ran a series of video clips promoting the idea of diversity - presumably, ethnic, cultural and otherwise - in America, and then proceeded to take on the idea.

It has become an increasingly heated topic, much more so than two or three decades ago, and Carlson went right at it.

He offered a series of questions:

How, precisely, is diversity our strength? Since you’ve made this our new national motto, please be specific as you explain it. Can you think, for example, of other institutions such as, I don’t know, marriage or military units in which the less people have in common, the more cohesive they are?
Do you get along better with your neighbors, your co-workers if you can’t understand each other or share no common values? Please be honest as you answer this question.
And if diversity is our strength, why is it okay for the rest of us to surrender one of our central rights, freedom of speech, to just a handful of tech monopolies? And by the way, if your ideas are so obviously true, why does anyone who question them need to be shamed, silenced and fired?

Fair enough. A good many people around the country have been asking such questions, and answers should be given, not just assumed. They’re not always universally obvious, though there are ready answers.

I’ll offer some of those in a moment. Before we get there: What do we mean by “diversity”?

Most simply, it means (in dictionary definitions) a range of different things, a variety, a mix. It can refer to a variety of anything; a television network could be said to offer diverse programming if it airs enough different kinds of shows.

That’s not exactly what we’re talking about in a political or social (or even business) context, though. What we’re really talking about is things like race, religion and ethnicity - and a resistance in some quarters to anyone who is distinctive from oneself.

This makes diversity is one of the flash points in our society. It is something we should discuss seriously and not dismiss.

So to move on to Carlson’s questions:

How, precisely, is diversity our strength? The broad answer is, we gain strength from a larger pool of experience, skills, strengths, understandings and points of view. Narrow and limited perspectives - smaller pools of knowledge and perspective - increase the likelihood of mistakes.

Since you’ve made this our new national motto, please be specific as you explain it. Carlson needs to explain who exactly is proposing “diversity” as a national motto. Unless you count “e pluribus unum,” or “out of many, one,” the slogan on our national seal and on some of our currency. From Wikipedia: The 13-letter motto was suggested in 1776 by Pierre Eugene du Simitiere to the committee responsible for developing the seal. At the time of the American Revolution, the exact phrase appeared prominently on the title page of every issue of a popular periodical, The Gentleman's Magazine,[10][11] which collected articles from many sources into one magazine.”

Can you think, for example, of other institutions such as, I don’t know, marriage or military units in which the less people have in common, the more cohesive they are? In fact, marriage and military units are excellent examples of how diversity can work very well. In my own marriage, my wife and I have some things in common but also a number of differences - different skills and interests, perspectives and aspects of background (not to mention genders). That’s not a weakness in the marriage. We’ve made many things happen, and avoided many mistakes, because we jointly brought more to what we do than would have been the case if, say, either of us had been working with a clone.

In the military, concerns about diversity weakening cohesion often were brought up on the front end of a change in more varied forces. The concerns nearly vanished in most cases as the greater variety of personnel wound up contributing far more than any (most illusory) loss of joint identity. The Congressional Research Service said in a 2017 report that diversity in the military is “associated with better creative problem solving, innovation and improved decisionmaking.” Those sort of traits are becoming increasingly critical, not only in the military but also almost everywhere else.

Do you get along better with your neighbors, your co-workers if you can’t understand each other or share no common values? Please be honest as you answer this question.
The honest answer is that a little effort and communication results in greater understanding. That’s not kumbaya; that’s just the way people relate to each other.

And if diversity is our strength, why is it okay for the rest of us to surrender one of our central rights, freedom of speech, to just a handful of tech monopolies? Not sure where Carlson is veering off to here; the question about the growing power of the big tech communications companies is a serious and legitimate question, but it doesn’t have a lot to do with diversity as such. Nor do they have much to do with “freedom of speech,” which is a bar that limits governmental restrictions on speech; it does not, never has anyway, limit Google or Twitter or for that matter my blog from limiting the speech disseminated there.

And by the way, if your ideas are so obviously true, why does anyone who question them need to be shamed, silenced and fired? Still got a job, Carlson? Oh, right, you work for - well, actually, for 21st Century Fox, which in its 2017 annual report said it “appreciates the importance of valuing and serving a diverse marketplace. Different backgrounds and characteristics, such as race, ethnicity, gender, disability, culture and sexual orientation, bring innovative viewpoints and merit to the creation of our content and products.” Discussion is diversity is quite public and ongoing, so it’s hardly being silenced.

As for fired, that generally has related to companies which have policies and practices much like the one you work for. If those companies fire people on grounds of statements they make, it’s because they have a commercial, business or public relations reason for doing that.

As for shaming: That could work only to the extent people agree shame ought to be attached to expressing the idea. Approbation shouldn’t attach to a dispassionate discussion of the concept. But the idea of diversity, in this country, often is linked to attitudes about race, about a willingness to accept even the humanity of people somewhat different from oneself. In a country of many kinds of people, where we must work together to succeed, a certain amount of concern about trashing other people is probably appropriate.

The swamp


You know what it is when you talk about it, right?

But, well, who and what are part of the Swamp?

The “drain the swamp” formulation was one of the more clever linguistic developments of the 2016 election. It had been used before, such as by both Newt Gingrich and Nancy Pelosi in 2006, but not as commonly. And it has some uses. Donald Trump used it often in his campaign that year, and the #DrainTheSwamp Twitter hashtag is highly popular. (It’s a busy Twitter handle as well.)

It caught fire and a lot of people adopted it because it had resonance. The idea of the political and economic centers of the country (even in the states) as a dank, sunken, corrupt place that does in the unwary and is full of “swamp things” is easy to get and even appreciate. And if you drain it, you get rid of disease-carrying insects and other unwanted pests. The metaphor is clear.

A John Kelley article in Slate points out that the phrase goes back much further, and was long used by the anti-capitalist left: “In a 1903 letter to the Daily Northwestern, Winfield R. Gaylord, state organizer of the Social Democratic Party, precursor to Eugene Debs’ Socialist Party of America, wrote: “Socialists are not satisfied with killing a few of the mosquitoes which come from the capittalist [sic] swamp; they want to drain the swamp.” So it has referred to the swamp of capitalism.

In 1983, Ronald Reagan spoke of “draining the swamp” that is the federal bureaucracy.

There is even some loose truth to it.

But be wary of this one. “The Swamp” sounds wonderfully specific and concrete, but it is neither. It evaporates the closer you look at it.

So what exactly is The Swamp?

While Washington, D.C., was built on lowlands by the Potomac River, and the area around the State Department long has been famously called Foggy Bottom, the fact is that the district (or at least nearly all of it) never has been, in its time of human habitation at least, swampland. Humid and mosquito-ridden, yes; swamp, no. So that direct link doesn’t work.

An Illinois group called American Transparency in 2017 issued a report called “Mapping the Swamp,” but that was simply an attention-getter: Its content consisted of budget reports (and employee compensation statistics) about federal administrative agencies. Is the swamp, then, federal administrative agencies, or does it cover much else?

Kelly’s stab at a definition, at least one for the 2010s: “Trump’s swamp isn’t just home to political cronies and crooks, whom the expression typically targets: The media, polling, leaders of his own political party, the abstract Establishment, and just about anything that challenges his view of the world, and himself, gets sucked into his vortex.”

Writers Brink Lindsey and Steven Teles suggested in an October 2017 New York Times article, “Donald Trump’s pledges to 'drain the swamp' of corruption in Washington attest to his genius for unintentional irony. Nepotism, egregious conflicts of interest, flights on the public dime to see Wimbledon and the eclipse — the Beltway wetlands are now wilder and murkier than ever.”

In the end, the swamp is a test: It is whatever you don’t like.



Of all the dirty words that do not deserve the description, “politician” must rank near the top.

Almost every candidate for office who’s new to it, or even semi-new, will start their spiel by proclaiming, “I’m not a politician …” Even a lot of long-time, career-spanning pols do it.

With, of course, the assumption that people will then think more kindly about them. And may be right.

But shouldn’t be.

The comedian George Carlin, who knew something about “dirty words”, said in one routine, “Everybody complains about politicians. Well, where do people think these politicians come from? . . . They come from American parents and American families, American homes, American schools, American churches, American businesses and American universities, and they are elected by American citizens. . . It’s what our system produces: Garbage in, garbage out. If you have selfish, ignorant citizens, you’re going to get selfish, ignorant leaders.”

Politicians r us. Or should be.

Actually, to be called a politician ought to be a badge of civic honor. These, after all, are people willing to put themselves out there, to enter the arena. Wikipedia's definition will do: "Politicians are people who are politically active, especially in party politics." In other words, they are civic-minded. Some of them may have darker motivations, but most of them are in it to try to make their community or state or nation a little better.

Just as many people think of people in “the media” as simply high-paid Washington talking heads, ignoring the local reporter who covers the city planning and zoning commission, many people think of “politician” in a limited way: prominent members of Congress, the president, a governor, occasional others.

But one common definition runs like one at “A politician is a person who campaigns for or holds a position in government.” That’s a lot of people, from the local mosquito district commissioner up to, say, the (non-elected) secretary of the treasury. And how about many lobbyists? Much of what they do is as richly political as that of any elected official, even if they lack the title.
They’re not all rotten. In fact, most of them aren’t.

Okay, there are reasons politician is a reviled description. The word can be used to describe someone outside of government, but with the attached negative context, such as the online description, “a person who acts in a manipulative and devious way, typically to gain advancement within an organization.”

Wikipedia again: "In the popular image, politicians are thought of as clueless, selfish, incompetent and corrupt, taking money in exchange for goods or services, rather than working for the general public good. Politicians in many countries are regarded as the "most hated professionals". Many ex-politicians who could not bear the leadership in politics that causes reprisals for critical thought criticize those who remain politicians for lacking critical thought."

There are plenty of examples of lousy politicians, people who deserve the opprobrium.

But, as everywhere else, there are plenty who do not - many who work day in and out trying to get something useful accomplished, in a government system that ultimately reports back to - us.

They're also doing the more or less invisible hard work of keeping our system of government running. If politicians we're doing it, who would? Us? Are you kidding? We so often do such a terrific job even at the far more limited job of just choosing which politicians will represent us ... but that's a subject for another post.