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Impure Politics

As contrasted to 'pure politics'.

by Barnabas
August 13, 2003

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Impure Politics_Barnabas-As contrasted to 'pure politics'.
President Bush asserted today that there had been significant progress in pacifying Iraq, and he dismissed as "pure politics" charges that he took the United States to war under false pretenses. —New York Times, August 8, 2003

Contestant: “I’ve got my eye on your job.”
Groucho: “You have your eye on it, but I have my seat on it.”

—“You Bet Your Life”
George Bush did not invent the expression, “pure politics.” It has been around for a long time as an accusation that incumbents level at their critics, especially when the critic might be on to something that could cause trouble. If the accusation of “pure politics” sticks, the criticism is judged on motive rather than merit.

It’s an unfortunate expression, though, especially when used by a sitting President. It denigrates the profession of the incumbent as well of the critic—both are politicians. Using the term is not so much mud-slinging as it is joining your critic in a mud shower. You were, after all, probably elected because you were better at “pure politics” than your opponent was. Using the term also suggests that you are careless about words. Taken at face value, your words imply that your politics, in contrast to your critic’s, are impure.

The President didn’t mean that, of course; he only meant to minimize the significance of the criticism without engaging it on a serious level. And why should he bother, if the public is content with believing that politically motivated criticism has no merit? The President is at least as secure as Groucho was when he reminded his smart-mouth contestant that having your seat on a job is not the same as having your eye on it.

Since every criticism by an opponent is deemed to have political motives, it represents “pure politics.” It must be disdained, therefore, by every right-thinking and loyal citizen. If we push this far enough, however, nothing in our public arena will ever be discussed on its merits because political implications and consequences are potential realities in every significant issue.

Public discourse threatens to remain at the level of the first Bush-Gore debate of the 2000 campaign. I was in my car, listening on the radio. The candidates were stripped down to their unnuanced words, separated from the forgiving flattery of the television camera. I soon turned the radio off. Here were two bright, experienced, mature Americans, aspiring to the most powerful position on earth, both afraid to say anything of substance because of the risk of negative impact to this or that voting block. Pure politics indeed, in the careless terminology of our time, but it bears no resemblance to statesmanship.

Politicians do all of us harm when they “diss” their profession in this way. If we can’t take them seriously in the halls of power, we certainly won’t on the campaign platform. They have given us no reason to.

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