Statesmanship. How sweet it would be if in our federal and state legislative halls we might find that again!

Statemanship: what is it? tells us:

Statesmanship —
1. the ability, qualifications, or practice of a statesman; wisdom and skill in the management of public affairs.

Statesman —
1. a person who is experienced in the art of government or versed in the administration of government affairs.
2. a person who exhibits great wisdom and ability in directing the affairs of a government or in dealing with
important public issues.

That to which I refer for statesman is the second definition with emphasis where I have added it. There is no directing going on and the constant distraction with lesser-important or social matters is certainly not an exhibition of wisdom.  Statesmanship neither implies nor requires a void of politics. Of course there will be politics involved, and politics need not be a 4-letter word.

Politics and core principles

Politics necessarily involves compromise. Indeed, in the legislative branch (hint: we have three branches of government) compromise is a mainstay of the function. Compromise is possible without compromise of core principles but objectives and principles that are not core principles can and must bend. Both of our political parties confuse “what I want” with core principles and it has led them both into “my way or the highway” approaches to dealing with one another. That is not statesmanship or any semblance of it.

Statesmanship is often lost in the intersection of social engineering and essential governing.  What do I mean by “essential governing?” It is that which government is uniquely able and mandated to accomplish or regulate.  Essential governing includes protection with military and police, having a central currency, regulating pharmaceuticals and air traffic control (notice I did not mention controlling prices), and defining fundamental interactions between and among citizens. Whoa, what are “fundamental interactions between and among citizens?”

We (and I mean mainly we lawyers and judges) often hear complaints that there are too many laws. You won’t get disagreement from “us” about that. But laws are the mechanisms by which we regulate behavior among people, and without which we would be left to the laws of the jungle. In my view the 10 Commandments should be enough (or the 15 if Mel Brooks was right) but most people don’t have the ability to think abstractly and apply just a few core principles to a factual circumstance and decide to act or not to act.  Therefore, we have more detailed laws to address fact-specific situations. For example, “thou shalt not kill” does not address the crime of intoxication manslaughter but that crime is consistent with the core principle of that 6th Commandment.

The Republican opportunity

The problem of that intersection of social engineering with essential governing is that the current level (lack) of statesmanship allows social goals (example: pro-life vs. pro-choice) to be confused with core principles of governingThe individual, social principle wherever you fall, for example, on pro-life/choice is just that:  a social and moral core principle. It is not core principle of governing.

Thus I distinguish core principles of morality from the core principles of governing. Until that distinction is applied in practice I see little chance for statesmanship to prevail, and my thesis is two-fold: (1) Republicans now have a mandate and opportunity to exercise statesmanship, and (2) their Achilles heel of confusing principles of morality with those of governing must be overcome in order to be statesmen. Only then will they be able to “exhibit great wisdom and ability in directing the affairs of [our] government [and deal] with important public issues.

Let me be clear: I am part of the moral majority but did not judge from the bench that way and would not legislate that way were I (God forbid) a legislator. Nobody has decried the loss of our national and family values more than I but those ills cannot be cured by legislation and such must not be attempted if we are to find our way back to statesmanship in Congress. We must find other mechanisms to re-prioritize those values and not allow our moral code to continue the governing logjam.