Post Politics: Our true political enemy is ourselves

Monday, November 30, 2009 at 11:45pm

Conventional wisdom says Bill Frist is not a political player anymore. After a stillborn run for president and a decision to forego the governor’s race, Frist has rejoined the Belle Meade Country Club and all but sworn off elective politics.

As a senator, he was competent but not outstanding. As a majority leader, he was underwhelming. As a potential presidential candidate, he was a disaster. But now, as a former politician, his advocacy on the big issues of the day: health care, education, AIDS, even extremism in the Republican Party, has been, dare we say it, statesmanlike.

Where has this Frist been? Would the old Frist have said that the so-called “birther movement” wasn’t a “reflection of the Republican Party” and that people “trying to connect the two are exaggerating and trying to make a point.”

Would the same man who carried water for the Bush administration and diagnosed Terry Schiavo via videotape have been willing to buck his party and declare a Democratic health care plan, denounced by conservatives as socialist, to be a viable option he would vote for were he still in office?

Would an earlier incarnation of Frist have chastised his own party for raising the specter of “death panels”? Would an elected Frist call arguments against the public option “overblown?”

Retired politicians always seem more attractive when they’re out of office than when they’re in. They exhibit a freedom outside the confines of political calculation that they never do when they’re “in the game.”

Al Gore was the same way. In 2000, he was a wooden, timid presidential candidate. Apart from his choice of Joe Lieberman as a running mate, he was afraid to make bold moves or show any authentic personality. If the Gore of 2003 and beyond had run against George W. Bush, some say, our country would look very different from how it does today.

It seems the version of politicians we say we want to run and serve are rarely the ones who actually do.

We blame the game of politics, the media and even the politicians themselves. We blame anyone and everyone for this eternal condition — except ourselves.

We talk about politics like it’s something far removed, as though we’re pawns on a chessboard manipulated by something out of our control. But the sad fact is that these pandering, paint-by-number politicians who measure their words and actions haven’t been foisted on us — but rather chosen by us.

We may say we want politicians to act like post-political Gores and Frists, but if that was what the public really thirsted for, surely there’d be an entirely different kind of political consulting.

Consider President Barack Obama. As much as he may have (and to some still does) looked like a leader above politics, it’s clear he’s just as cautious and calculating as any other Democratic leader. He hasn’t taken bold action on foreign policy, and domestically, he opted not to push a bold concrete plan for health reform — opting instead for a vague outline.

He did that for the same reason any politician does anything: to preserve a political future.

We can blame a lot of people and cite many reasons why politicians are so much different once they get out of office, but the real reason is staring at us in the mirror.

We may have media — mass, alternative and new — seeking to manipulate and trick us. We may have political professionals trying to bamboozle us. And there may be monied special interests bending politicians to their will. But we’re in control if we want to be.

If we want politicians who say what they mean and mean what they say, voters should support them when they emerge. Otherwise, politicians will behave exactly like Gore and Frist — cautious and calculating in office, bold and statesmanlike outside of politics.

Until voters show leaders that they can buck the system and be rewarded, they’ll simply show up and toe the line. And if they’re re-elected, well then, the bad guy is us.

A.C. Kleinheider is's political blogger. Visit Post Politics at

7 Comments on this post:

By: dogmrb on 12/1/09 at 9:19

But fortunately the Republicans have Zack Wamp: a politician of a different cut of cloth.

By: on 12/1/09 at 9:43

Unfortunately, I don't see this changing. As long as money controls the whole process, we're stuck with this thing. We need to all ask ourselves when the last time was we didn't vote for the lesser of two evils. The Demopublicans have this thing all figured out, and we play right into their hands. We have the best government money can buy.

By: NonyaBidness on 12/1/09 at 11:11

Well, Bill Frist is saying things that buck the Republican Party and the press and independents love him for it. Kind of like McCain before he decided to run for president, right? But come election time, if you're a Republican and not pandering to your right wing base, then you can forget about it. You see, Frist pissed off just as many right wing R's as he pleased people with common sense.

Gore turned left after he lost in 2000 and would've been even more unelectible in 2004. It took a second dose of the Bush/Cheney medicine before the country was ready to elect a left of center Democratic candidate. And yes, Obama has disappointed some of us by not offering a "bold concrete plan for health reform," but honestly, what chance would it have had. The R's have stood firm in unified opposition to whatever he or the D's propose, and D's in sensitive districts have also had to watch their backs.

Fact is, you can't get elected without betraying some part of your contituency, and right now the R's are the ones doing most of the pandering to their core. But it's not because we, the people, fail to elect those who are more "statesmanlike." It's because everyone wants a different kind of statesman. The fact is KC, nobody makes everybody happy. It is a simple as the old saying, "you can please some of the people, all of the time, or some of the people, some of the time, but never all of the people, all of the time."

By: GUARDIAN on 12/1/09 at 1:38

MOST OF THE MEDIA and it's socialist/communist allies are our enemies. This is coming from a lifelong democrat well ex-democrat. The fat lady is singing to you leftist freaks and you are to dumb to hear her.

By: brrrrk on 12/1/09 at 5:54


"MOST OF THE MEDIA and it's socialist/communist allies are our enemies. This is coming from a lifelong democrat well ex-democrat. The fat lady is singing to you leftist freaks and you are to dumb to hear her."

Ex-democrat my donkey!

By: brrrrk on 12/1/09 at 6:07

As George Carlin once said, "We get the government we deserve"... As long as we put our own needs before the needs of the country and the needs of the middle and lower class people that make up the majority of this country and do the majority of the heavy lifting that makes this country great, then this problem will continue to persist.

By: pswindle on 12/1/09 at 6:13

All that needs to be said is that if Gore had been able to take the office of President in 2000, this country would not be on the brink of disaster. TN should hang its head in shame. I can hardly stand to think that we let a dumb man over a smart man take the office of president and do what he did to our country. Sen. Frist was a yes man to Bush/Cheney. He did everything that he was told to do. Gore's defeat in TN was the NRA and the churches doing what they do best and that is to tell one lie after another. The sad thing is that the people of TN believes it. But, DeKalb County is waking up with the likes of Beaver and Weaver. They can't even lie themselves out of the damage that they have done to DeKalb Co.