Politicians Acting Politically? Duh

By Begala, Paul | Newsweek, July 9, 2012 | Go to article overview

Politicians Acting Politically? Duh


Begala, Paul, Newsweek


Byline: Paul Begala

If it's good for the country, the motives don't matter.

I know it's a lot to ask, but can we please ban the phrase, "He's doing this for political reasons"--at least until after the election?

Let's posit that the point of politics is to get more votes than the other side--so everything a politician does is by definition political. Shocking. But there is, frequently, also an element of principle, a dash of ideology, and maybe even a hint of idealism.

To analyze every act in terms of motive, and to reduce every motive to its basest level, is just dumb.

Here's an example. A few months ago I spent a long weekend at spring training in Florida with some college buddies, leaving my wife at home with our four feral boys. We've been married for nearly a quarter century, and I'd like to continue the streak. So on my way home from the airport, I diverted course and picked up a bouquet of flowers. If the political press were covering this act, the story would not be: "Because he truly, deeply loves his wife, Begala brought her flowers." More likely: "In a shameless attempt to cover for his weekend abandonment--" Even more likely: "In a cynical attempt to get lucky--"

All of those things are true. We do what we do for a multitude of motives--some noble, some selfish, some cynical. I will never deny that a politician has a political motive, but that observation is so obvious that we can safely presume it. To say a politician is just doing something to get votes is like saying, "The Miami Heat only want to win basketball games." Try that on ESPN and see how long you last as an analyst. (One more reason why it's easier to be a cable-TV pundit than a sports reporter.)

Obama's shift on the DREAM Act is a case in point. Last year our president was telling immigration reformers he didn't have the authority to suspend deportations of "dreamers," but now he's done exactly that. Was it political? Of course. Latinos are the fastest-growing segment of the electorate, and 90 percent of Latinos support the DREAM Act. So to deny any political motive would be foolish. But it was also substantive. Some 800,000 young people who have done nothing wrong can now be protected from deportation. I call that good policy.

Same with President Obama's "evolution" on marriage equality. A plurality of Americans in a recent New York Times/CBS poll supported the president's position. …

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