Epoch Times via DigitalVision Vectors/Getty. (L-R) Henry Knox, Thomas Jefferson, Edmond Randolph, Alexander Hamilton, and President George Washington
Statesmen Over Politicians

Lance Christensen

Vice President, Education Policy & Government Affairs

Lance Christensen
February 13, 2024

Statesmen Over Politicians

A very contentious election season is upon us. To better navigate the deluge of political propaganda, here are a few thoughts about choosing the best candidates who can stand as bulwarks of freedom from those who want to selfishly rule and reign over Californians.

A campaign speech can reveal much about the timber of someone running for office. The template is fairly basic. Expose a critical issue, share a few anecdotes, frame the desired position favorably, identify a villain, and pronounce a simple solution. If a charismatic candidate can get the dramatic pauses and applause lines right, hooking an audience—and thus, the voters—is relatively easy. However, governing is more than poll-tested talking points outlined in a riveting speech. It’s hard work, diligence, and integrity. It’s statesmanship.

A statesman understands constitutional principles and does his or her best to represent the will of the people in a manner consistent with the common good. Think George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and Calvin Coolidge. Unfortunately, the present paucity of statesmen, or men and women with the fortitude and integrity to take the higher road, makes it difficult to model exemplary, public servant behavior.

As G.K. Chesterton noted, “The men whom the people ought to choose to represent them are too busy to take the jobs. But the politician is waiting for it. He’s the pestilence of modern times. What we should try to do is make politics as local as possible. Keep the politicians near enough to kick them.”

Deliberate decision-making is a hallmark of statemen. They understand processes and the limits of promises to voters, leaving no stone unturned in trying to improve the law, if it can be improved at all. And when circumstance, analysis, and consideration of all angles suggests there is not a plausible pathway to accomplish a worthy goal, a statesman re-evaluates his situation and may pivot or not move forward at all.

Ultimately, the statesman understands who and what they represent and the difference between the stage and the audience; they know they are not elected to impress the technicians, but to be accountable to the constitution that they swear to support and defend, which, in turn, protects the people.

A statesman is going to tell you the truth even when their position is unpopular. Edmund Burke knew this all too well as a member of the British Parliament where his principles cost him at the polls. “Your representative owes you, not his industry only, but his judgment; and he betrays, instead of serving you, if he sacrifices it to your opinion.”

Schools of government idolize the concept of “getting to yes.” This trite phrase is the trophy of the aspiring politician. If there’s a solution to a problem, every issue becomes a transaction. As such, compromise, for the sake of compromise creates, as Alexis de Tocqueville describes, “a network of small, complicated, minute, and uniform rules” replacing representative government with an administrative state.

In legislative bodies, from school boards to Congress, a statesman will understand that compromise and efficiency is not the goal of governing. Legislative bodies are not designed to be consistently fast and effective. That is not to say that they should be slow and ineffective, but their processes should be, by definition, deliberative.

As such, statesmen will be cautious to consistently or regularly change laws. Legislators who make laws for the sake of making laws, or amending them in arbitrary and capricious ways, are guilty of hubris. That includes most of our current legislature that sets in motion thousands of bills every year, often with pre-determined outcomes intended to grow bureaucracy and nudge people towards a collectivist vision of the anointed.

One of the greatest economists and thinkers of our time, Thomas Sowell, offered such a critique. “No one will really understand politics until they understand that politicians are not trying to solve our problems. They are trying to solve their own problems—of which getting elected and re-elected are number one and number two. Whatever is number three is far behind.”

In short, politicians seeking their own self-interest is the antithesis of statesmanship. Men and women who are convinced of their infallibility in setting agendas and policy goals will lack principles and act in a transactional manner in all things. Proceed with caution when interacting with them.

So, as you get your ballot this election cycle, think about what you want your country, state, city, and school board to be. Ask the candidates what they are going to do to advance liberty without giving into the temptation to change laws as some sort of merit badge. Ask them if they are willing to say “No” to their colleagues when the pressure is high to do a favor for the unions or other special interests. Ask them if they are willing to be a statesman.


Originally published by the Epoch Times.

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