If you’re involved in the political system, you’re a politician

A man and a woman orating, and a megaphone

By John A. Tures, Professor of Political Science, LaGrange College

One of the first things political office seekers do when they run as candidates is to say they are “not a politician.” This trend continues even after they win office, and hold office for many years. I wouldn’t trust a single one of them, as every one of them is a politician. The question is whether as voters, we’re going to hold people accountable in the jobs they seek, because by being part of the political system in a republic, our democratic system makes us politicians as well.

When New Hampshire Public Radio covered Donald Trump beginning his run for political office, he proclaimed “I’m a businessman, not a politician.” The truth of the matter is that he probably was a businessman until he announced his candidacy. Then he was a politician. Certainly by October of 2020, he was still a politician. Yet there President Trump was at a rally in Omaha at the end of his reelection campaign, announcing “I’m not a politician,” according to KETV.

His rivals tried to match the Trump rhetoric. Political candidate for U.S. President Dr. Ben Carson announced “I’m not a politician. I don’t want to be a politician, because politicians do what is politically expedient. I want to do what’s right.”

What Dr. Carson was doing was running for office, so like it or not, he was a politician. Doing what’s right would involve letting people know that you are a politician. Maybe you’d be a good politician. But part of the reason people don’t trust politicians is that they are so quick to deny that they are politicians.

A candidate for office in Nevada was on Fox News on the Varney & Co. show, according to Candice Ortiz. When Stuart Varney pressed him for what he would do about the Ukraine conflict, the politician said “I’m not gonna sit here and tell the American people exactly what that looks like without having that knowledge. And that’ what we have too many politicians doing. I’m not a politician.”

If I were in Nevada, I wouldn’t vote for him. He’s already lost my trust. Varney seemed to agree, announcing “I’m flat out of time,” before cutting to a commercial break, exasperated by the double-talk and unwilling to take a stand, defending Ukraine or admitting a desire for a Russian victory.

Believe it or not, we used to have politicians admit that’s what they were. John F. Kennedy in a speech in Cleveland, Ohio said “Max Lerner is essentially a writer interested in politics. And I am a politician interested in writing.” United Kingdom Prime Minister Winston Churchill once quipped “A politician needs the ability to foretell what is going to happen tomorrow, next week, next month, and next year. And to have the ability afterwards to explain why it didn’t happen.” Even former President Harry S. Truman wryly noted “A politician is a man who understands government. A statesman is a politician who’s been dead for 15 years.”

But it’s Bertha S. Adkins that I want to draw your attention to. In the Pi Lambda Theta journal in 1950, she wrote “But it is my earnest conviction that, until every voter realizes that he is a politician, our government will never have the high caliber of leadership which it needs.” In our system with democracy at the state and local level, and a republic at the national level, we’re all politicians because we own our own political system.

John A. Tures is a professor of political science at LaGrange College in LaGrange, Georgia. His views are his own. He can be reached at jtures@lagrange.edu. His Twitter account is JohnTures2.