Who’s a ‘politician’?

Just who is a “politician?” I’m one at the moment but I’ll cease being one in a few weeks since I’ll no longer be a member of the West Virginia House of Delegates, a political office I’ve held for the last 20 years.

My Oxford English Dictionary defines “politician” as “a person who is involved in politics as a job, either as a holder of or a candidate for an elected office.” So anyone who runs for office is ipso facto a “politician.” Since the office I’ve held is a part-time position, It’s proper to label me a “part-time politician.”

Some of my past opponents have attempted to label me a “career politician.” I accept “B” but not “A.” I reject only the “career” part. I had to hold some other part-time job while a member of the Legislature because that job does not pay a living wage until I became eligible for Social Security a few years ago. Had I wanted politics for a career I would have sought an office that paid a full-time salary.

I marvel at how many politicians of both the part-time and full-time variety try to claim that they really aren’t “politicians.” I find this sad, since I think being a politician is a noble endeavor. I’m proud of having been a politician for many years.

I suspect that the reason few politicians want to admit to what they are is that the word has a negative connotation. It’s often preceded by a term such as “just” or “only.” Those who engage in politics are presumed by many to be a bit smarmy. I suppose this is because politics itself is thought to be smarmy.

One of my opponents a few years ago, Dave Ebbit (an otherwise thoughtful individual) claimed during the campaign that he was not a “politician” but a “statesman.” My trusty Oxford defines “statesman” as “an experienced and respected political leader.” This was Dave’s first try for political office.

I apologize to Dave for singling him out. I do so merely to illustrate. Many politicians — Democrats, Republicans, independents and members of minor parties — are equally guilty.

I wish politicians would stop denying what they are. Most politicians of all philosophical stripes are honorable people who are engaged in politics because they want to help society. If politicians would own up to being what they are the art of politics would have more respect.

There are good politicians and bad politicians, just as there are good and bad practitioners of every craft under the sun. Good politicians make good politics, which makes for good policy. Bad politicians make bad politics, which produces lousy policy. Politicians are essential to the survival of the republic. The only way to eliminate politicians would be to eliminate democracy.

Abraham Lincoln was one of our very best presidents. Everybody I know accepts that Mr. Lincoln was a “statesman.” Mr. Lincoln was very courageous in support of the causes in which he believed and he was also a very crafty dealmaker. He made his deals in the interest of the nation and the nation is far better for those deals than it would be had they not been made. He was one of the best practitioners of the art of politics our country has seen.

I like and respect almost all the politicians I know, no matter their party or governing philosophy. But I plead with the many of them who shy from the proper label to stop pretending and admit publicly what they really are. Stand tall, politicians, and do the body politic a favor.


— John Doyle represents the 57th District in the West Virginia House of Delegates.


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