Perhaps the greatest loss in the current fire & brimstone version of American politics is the virtually complete absence of genuine statesmanship. The dictionary definition of “statesman,” is:
a wise, skillful, and respected political leader.
Note that there is no reference to political party or partisanship in this definition because a true statesman has the wisdom and skills to lead and not just the crass skill to win elections.
While there has been a long term American trend minimizing the value of statesmanship, the trend worsened after the Supreme Court’s 2010 decision in Citizens United in which the majority held that under the First Amendment corporate funding of independent political broadcasts in candidate elections cannot be limited. This decision unleashed a torrent of campaign spending such as the nation has never seen before in which corporate interests spend as they please to buy the politicians that serve their interests. Such an atmosphere makes principled statesmanship extremely challenging.
Fortunately, there are a few statesmen left, although at the federal level, one statesman who stands out has wisely chosen to stay out of electoral politics, perhaps to preserve his ability to be a statesman. Retired Gen. Colin Powell served as Secretary of State under President George W. Bush, and yet due to his statesmanship, despite being considered as a possible Vice-Presidential running mate for Presidential candidate John McCain, shortly before the 2008 election, he endorsed Barack Obama during a Meet the Press interview, citing “his ability to inspire, because of the inclusive nature of his campaign, because he is reaching out all across America, because of who he is and his rhetorical abilities,” in addition to his “style and substance.” He additionally referred to Obama as a “transformational figure“. Crossing party lines is a true marker of statesmanship.
At the local level, Wisconsin State Senator Dale Schultz, a long time Republican, has also shown that he is a statesman. He has been in the Wisconsin legislature since 1982, and his overall voting record is generally that of a conservative Republican, earning him high marks from Right to Life groups, the NRA and Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce. But ever since 2011, when he voted against his party’s budget proposal to strip union collective bargaining rights, as well as against a bill that would fast track mining in Wisconsin, he has earned the ire of many in his party and may well face a challenging primary if he chooses to run for re-election. I worked closely with him in helping to kill and ALEC sponsored special needs voucher bill in 2012.
Wisconsin is a better place because of statesmen like Dale Schultz, and America is a better country because of statesmen like Colin Powell. The national challenge is to make our political environment more conducive for more statesmen to practice their skillful craft.