Pressmanship: The Opposite of Statesmanship

As our nation watches our federal government sputter to a halt with the rest of the world wondering whether we will risk the world’s economic health for the purpose of scoring political victories, I continue to lament the lack of statesmanship, which is so very hard to find these days, as I wrote about previously.  Indeed, every day, regular Americans are impacted by the Congress’ failure to pass a budget.  Whether it is closure of local VA offices, the inability of farmers to get the information they need to make important planting and harvesting decisions, or the myriad of other large & small impacts both here and abroad, perhaps the biggest impact is the worldwide loss of respect for our nation’s ability to govern itself.

While the pundits and politicians continue to cast barbs at each other, I have been searching for the word that would best define the current paralysis plaguing our federal government.  I have been searching for the word that is the opposite of statesmanship. Remarkably, the English language does not have a word that is a true antonym for statesmanship.

Some have claimed that the Founding Fathers set up our government of checks & balances knowing that there would be conflict, thereby reducing the chances of a temporary Congressional majority or a demagogue of a President ruling by fiat.  However, as James Madison stated quite clearly in Federalist Paper # 10, entitled, The Utility of the Union as a Safeguard Against Domestic Faction and Insurrection, 

Among the numerous advantages promised by a well constructed Union, none deserves to be more accurately developed than its tendency to break and control the violence of faction.

Madison also lamented about statesmen:

It is in vain to say that enlightened statesmen will be able to adjust these clashing interests, and render them all subservient to the public good. Enlightened statesmen will not always be at the helm.

But he certainly did not envision a Congress that was prepared to violate the Constitutional requirement to pay its debts!

My search for the opposite of statesmanship finally bore fruit in an article from the London Times from 1852, entitled, Pressmanship and Statesmanship.  While the article may be somewhat outdated for the 21st century, the word pressmanship seems to be what our federal leaders are engaged in: battling for sound bites in the press to gain political advantage, rather than acting as statesmen in the national interest.

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For our nation’s sake, we can only hope that our nation’s leaders will start acting more like statesmen then pressmen.  If not, perhaps the voters will elect more statesmen in the 2014 elections and boot out the pressmen so the storm clouds can lift and the sun can shine on our nation’s Capitol.


For more information on how I can help you accomplish effective, progressive systems change e-mail Jeff Spitzer-Resnick or visit Systems Change Consulting.

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6 thoughts on “Pressmanship: The Opposite of Statesmanship

  1. In modern English, the closest to the opposite of statesman is “unstatesmanlike” along the lines of “unsportsmanlike”. That’s awkward and does not convey the malice and destructiveness of ideological extremism that is no occurring.

  2. dead on assessment of the situation, Jeff! How do we stop the one and encourage the other? Seems like the immediate gratification favors the pressmanship and no one is looking to the long-term…

    • Good question, Sharon. For one thing, we have to call make it real clear what’s going on…one of the reasons I write this blog. The biggest challenge, is the massive money which Citizens United unleashed on our political world, and sadly, I don’t have an easy answer for that one.

    • Sharon: Vote! And don’t bother trying to change minds. What is far more effective is getting those who agree with you to also vote.

      In 2016 we in Wisconsin will have an opportunity to replace Senator Ron Johnson, a pressman, with a statesman.

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