Monthly Archives: April 2016

“Is there a new ‘Maverick’ in town?”

Is there a new Maverick in town?  (Or just another “nothing new under the sun“?)

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I’m working on a new piece.  It’s based on an article I found in an old (November 12, 1998) issue of Rolling Stone.

Strangely enough, I found the old magazine at the bottom of a dumpster.  (Like the one seen at right.)  And that – you may come to agree – will turn out strangely appropriate.

I decided to keep the old Rolling Stone as a souvenir.  (Based on the cover photo.)  It featured a photo of Bill Clinton, looking rather befuddled, with the headline: Sex, Power & The Presidency: The Clinton Conversation.  (See also Monica Lewinsky.)  But inside – starting on page 92 – I found an article that seemed much more relevant to today’s political scene.

The article noted a presidential candidate who showed “a malignant understanding of how angry words, more than real ideas, can be deployed as weapons of power:”

He knows that repetition – invoking the same foul claims over and over – can transform outrageous lies into popular understandings.  He blithely changes his facts, positions and personae because he is making it up as he goes along and assumes no one will catch up with the contradictions.  Beneath the mask of conservative idealogue is an amoral pragmatist.

Sound familiar?  Or is this instead a matter of:  “Can you say prescient?”

And here’s another hint:  It wasn’t Donald Trump!

Anyway, the project-piece turned to be out a bit more complicated than I expected.  So – in the interim – I offer up this blog-post.  It’s both a look at the past and a teaser.

Nick Adams The Rebel.JPGOne thing some politicians bring up a lot today is “how great things used to be.”  I agree.  That was pretty much my point in Whatever happened to … Cassidy?  But I made the same point much earlier in “Johnny YUMA was a rebel.”

The title of that post was a take-off from an old Seinfeld bit:  “A rebel?  No.  Johnny Yuma was a rebel.  Eckman is a nut…”

Which also seems strangely appropriate to politics today.

But take a closer look at that blast from the past:

[Johnny] Yuma faced down intolerance, distrust, greed, confusion and revenge.  Despite his rebellious nature, Yuma respected law and order and despised abuse of power.  He stood up for the weak and downtrodden.  He traveled alone and was often forced to work alone because he was the only one willing to stand up to the bad guys. (E.A.)

Which – I suppose – brings up the subject of mavericks in general.

Originally the term referred to “Texas lawyer Samuel Maverick, who refused to brand his cattle. The surname Maverick is of Welsh origin, from Welsh mawr-rwyce, meaning ‘valiant hero.”

As an adjective the term applies to someone who shows “independence in thoughts or actions.”  As a noun the term means someone “who does not abide by rules.”  Either that, or someone who “creates or uses unconventional and/or controversial ideas or practices.”

Maverick - Title Card.jpgBut to those of us of a certain age, the more-familiar connection is to Maverick, the “Western television series with comedic overtones” that ran from September 22, 1957 to July 8, 1962, on ABC 

(The series starred “James Garner as Bret Maverick, an adroitly articulate cardsharp.”)  Which – I suppose – brings us back to the subject at hand.

So:  Is there indeed a “new Maverick in town?”  Or are today’s politics just another example of nothing new under the sun?  (For the original thought, see Ecclesiastes 1:9:  “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.”)

I’ll have the answer in the next post.  That post in turn will review more fully the Rolling Stone magazine I found at the bottom of a dumpster.  (Which I expect to turn out as a great metaphor.)  In the meantime enjoy this other blast from the past:

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HOPALONG CASSIDY:

“Reserved … well spoken, with a sense of fair play,” and:

“His drink of choice being sarsaparilla.”

 

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The upper image is courtesy of Maverick (TV series) – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

Re: “Dumpster.”  Here the proper term would be “roll-off,” a specific type of dumpster.  “Roll-offs” – as I know them – are used in recycling.  (Converting “waste materials into reusable objects.”)  See also Dumpster diving … Dictionary.com.  Note that when I found the “last century” copy of Rolling Stone, I wasn’t “foraging in garbage.”  I was “stomping down” paper products in the paper-recycling roll-off.  Such stomping-down insures that the roll-off will contain more material to be recycled.  (In this case paper products, which in turn will Save More Trees.

The lower image is courtesy of The HOPALONG CASSIDY Poster Page, WILLIAM BOYD.

 

On Gerrymandering and political “costiveness”

The original Gerrymander – a political ploy from 1812 – courtesy of Elbridge Gerry …

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Today at lunch I finished the rest of the February 8, 2016 issue of Time magazine.  (The first issue – from 1923 – is shown at right.)  I get the magazines hand–me–down from my brother and sister-in-law, and sometimes it takes awhile to read them through.  

Specifically, today I read The Apprentice Voter, starting on page 32.

(See for example How Trump and Sanders Voters Are Upending U.S Politics, which noted that – online – “This TIME Magazine article is only available to subscribers.”  See also RE: TIME “Apprentice Voters” … Medium, and Meet the First-Time Voters Who Are Changing the Election.  For an “on the other hand” – or update – see New model finds 1 candidate surging in general election, dated 4/13/16:  “Hillary Clinton would secure massive victories in the general election against both Donald Trump and Ted Cruz.”  The article also noted that Republican candidate John Kasich could “block [such] a victory.”)

Naturally the article focused on the upcoming 2016 U.S. presidential election.

For example, the two lead photos featured a 22-year-old Bernie Sanders supporter, and a 31-year-old Donald Trump supporter.  The Sanders supporter said that everyone “is tired of politics as usual,” and “frustrated with income inequality.”  He added, “We were told in kindergarten that we could do anything.  I don’t think that’s true.”

The Trump supporter said this:  “We’re becoming weakened in the face of the world.  We’re not the global superpower that we used to be.”  And Time added this summary:

From opposite ends of the spectrum, both [ – Sanders and Trump – ] have promised to remake the nation with a populist revolution.  You could call their supporters the Apprentice Voters:  the fed-up, the tuned-out, the frustrated flock who want their elected leaders to feel their pain, reflect their fury and actually do something about it.

Which is all well and good.  However, it does bring up a pet theory of mine.

Seal of the U.S. House of RepresentativesMy theory is that real political change will only come about when we re-make the U.S. House of Representatives.  (BTWcostiveness is defined alternately as causing constipation,” suffering from constipation,” being “slow” and/or “sluggish,” or “stingy.”)  

Which pretty much describes the political situation today.  

My original thesis was that the problem could well be due to gerrymandering.  (That is, the “practice that attempts to establish a political advantage for a particular party or group by manipulating district boundaries to create partisan-advantaged districts.”)

But one website indicated that may not be the case.  See As Swing Districts Dwindle, Can a Divided House Stand?  (I used the search-term:  “congressional district entrenched.”)

That article said most Congressional representatives now come from hyper-partisan districts where they face essentially no threat of losing their seat to the other party.”

The article said the issue is a one of shrinking swing districts, where an incumbent stands a chance of losing an election.  (As opposed to landslide districts, where the incumbent is virtually assured of re-election.)  In a nutshell, “the number of swing districts has been on a steady decline since at least 1992, and the number of landslide districts on a steady rise.”

On the other hand, it seems there has a bit of gerrymandering:  For example, the Congressional redistricting “that took place after the 2010 elections.”

Republicans were in charge of the redistricting process in many states, and they made efforts to shore up their incumbents, while packing Democrats into a few overwhelmingly Democratic districts.  In the few large states where Democrats were in charge of the redistricting process, like Illinois, they largely adopted a parallel approach.

Which brings up the issue of Congressional redistricting itself.

Wikipedia noted that seven of our 50 states don’t have that issue at all. (Their population is so small they only have one representative for the whole state.  Like Wyoming, with the city of Casper shown at right.)  

Seven other states have their congressional districts decided by an “independent or bipartisan redistricting commission.”  (“To reduce the role that legislative politics might play.”)   But that still leaves plenty of room for political ploys, such as – for example – gerrymandering:

Partisan domination of state legislatures and improved technology to design contiguous districts that pack opponents into as few districts as possible have led to district maps which are skewed towards one party.  Consequently, many states including FloridaGeorgia, Maryland, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Texas have succeeded in reducing or effectively eliminating competition for most House seats in those states.

Then there was another ploy – in 2003 – by Texas Republicans.  They “increased their representation in the U.S. House through a controversial mid-decade redistricting.”  (For another view see Mid-Decade Redistricting, Abuse of Power, by Texas Democratic Congessman Gene Green.)

Then too, in some other states – like California, New Jersey and New York – legislators have protected incumbents of both parties.  (Which reduces the number of competitive districts.)

On the “other other hand,” the Supreme Court recently offered some hope.

Screen shot of RawStory.pngSee for example Why Monday’s Supreme Court decision on redistricting is an important victory over conservatives.  Dated April 6, 2016, that Raw Story lead paragraph went like this:

As the composition of the Supreme Court remains in flux following the death of one of its most outspoken justices and as the executive and legislative branches continue to battle over the timing of his replacement, the eight-member Court spoke in one voice today to affirm a bedrock democratic principle.

That bedrock principle was representational Equality:  “the longstanding principle of one-person one-vote.”  (Formerly known as “one man, one vote.”)  See also Supreme Court ruling on Texas redistricting cheers Democrats.  (About liberal groups applauding the ruling that bolsters the power of “Texas’ booming Latino population,” in areas long dominated by conservatives.)

Which brings up a caveat.  Don’t think – from the last sentence – that I’m one of those flaming liberals.  (But as Seinfeld might say, “Not That There’s Anything Wrong With That!”)  Instead – and as noted in Blue Dogs and the “Via Media” – I try hard to follow the “Middle Way:”

Via media is a Latin phrase meaning “the middle road…”   Aristotle [urged] his students to follow the middle road between extremes [and] the via media was the dominant philosophical precept by which Ancient Roman civilisation and society was organised…  The idea of a middle way [also] goes back to early in the Protestant Reformation

See Via media – Wikipedia.  However, we digress!

We were talking about gerrymandering and other symptoms of the political costiveness so prevalent today.  And possibly about whether there’s any hope for the future.

Personally, I think there is.  And that you can sum it one word.

The GraduateRemember that scene in 1967’s The Graduate?

Where Mr. McGuire takes Dustin Hoffman (Benjamin Braddock) aside and says – about his future – “I want to say one word to you.  Just one word.”  (See The Graduate “One Word: Plastics” – YouRepeat.)

Well, here’s my one word about hope for our political future:

Millennials!

See for example The “Millennials” Are Coming – CBS News, about the impact on corporate America by and from “the demographic cohort following Generation X.”

But since we’re talking politics, here’s what Wikipedia had to say about Millennials:

According to a 2013 article in The Economist, surveys of political attitudes among Millennials in the United Kingdom suggest increasingly liberal attitudes with regard to social and cultural issues…  The Economist parallels this with Millennials in the United States, whose attitudes are more supportive of social liberal policies and same-sex marriage…  A 2014 poll for the libertarian Reason magazine suggested that US Millennials were social liberals and fiscal centrists more often than their global peers.

So to sum this all up:  On the political front there seems to be good news for some and bad news for others.  Or to sum it up paraphrasing something Bob Dylan said back in 1964:

The times they WILL be changin.'”

 

A black-and-white close-up of Dylan's face looking down

The original album cover, released on January 13, 1964…

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The upper image is courtesy of Gerrymandering – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.  The caption:

Printed in March 1812, this political cartoon was drawn in reaction to the newly drawn state senate election district of South Essex created by the Massachusetts legislature to favor the Democratic-Republican Party candidates of Governor Elbridge Gerry over the Federalists.  The caricature satirizes the bizarre shape of a district in Essex County, Massachusetts, as a dragon-like “monster.”  Federalist newspaper editors and others at the time likened the district shape to a salamander, and the word gerrymander was a blend of that word and Governor Gerry’s last name.

Re: representatives.  See also the general article, House[s] of Representatives.

Re: Wyoming.  See also Wyoming’s at-large congressional district – Wikipedia.

Re:  “On the other other hand.”  The link-citation – Give me a one-handed economist! – referenced the practice of economists (for example) to keep saying, “On the other hand…  On the other hand…”  The first time I heard that joke it was about lawyers who kept saying pretty much the same thing, when asked a question by a client.  (Who was no doubt looking for a straight answer.)

Re: “the Supreme Court recently offered some hope.”  But see Redistricting – Wikipedia:

The Supreme Court’s ruling on the Pennsylvania gerrymander effectively cemented the right of elected officials to select their constituents by eliminating most of the grounds for disenfranchised constituents to challenge gerrymandered lines.

That article apparently hasn’t been updated since Evenwel v. Abbott. (4/6/16.)  See also How Supreme Court stood up for democracy for minorities, about the Evenwel case.

Re: “One word.  Plastics.”  See also The Graduate – Wikiquote.  The “one word” quote is in the second set of dialogue, right after the exchange between Benjamin and Mr. Braddock, his father.

Re: “Millenial” political views.  Wikipedia added that they were “less supportive of abortion than Gen X were in the early 1990s,” and that The Economist predicted that “millennials would become more conservative on fiscal issues once they started paying taxes.”

The lower image is courtesy of The Times They Are a-Changin (album).

On Reagan, Kennedy – and “Dick the Butcher”

Two political rivals – back in the old days when such people could “sup with their enemies…”

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Back on June 12, 2015, I posted “Great politicians sell hope.”

Chris Matthews 2011 Shankbone.JPGThe title of that post was a quote from the 2007 Chris Matthews book, Life’s a Campaign.  In the post I noted my first reaction. (To the idea of politicians “selling hope.”)  That first reaction was – and I quote – What rock have you  been living under?  Then I noted this, from page “xv:”

Political traits are in essence the ability to deal with people.   I’m talking about basic likability, the readiness to listen, to project optimism, to ask for help, to display good cheer in the face of opposition.  To learn the traits of the best [political] practitioners is to acquire a treasure chest of ways to persuade and influence people. 

In other words, Matthews suggested that – far from being inherently objectionable – today’s politicians are people that we “civilians” could actually learn something from.

I then noted that Matthews was – after all – talking about the best practitioners.  (The best “political” practitioners that is.)  Then I added this:  “Maybe the problem today is that too many politicians are trying only to be ‘basically likeable’ to their core base.*”

Donnie BrascoWhich is I suppose another way of saying that not too many people these days see the current crop of politicians as displaying “basic likability.”

Or for that matter “the readiness to listen,” the ability to project optimism, or display “good cheer in the face of opposition.”  (As to asking for help from your political enemies, “Fuhgeddaboudit!!“)

Matthews then added another zinger:  That our current state of political gridlock may well be more of a “situation normal,” and not an aberration.

Then he said something that really surprised me.  Matthews said that most politicians today are both smart and they know exactly what they’re doing.

As an example – and set the tone for the book – he started his Introduction with this Dale Carnegie quote:  “My popularity, my happiness and sense of worth depend to no small extent upon my skill in dealing with people.”  (As applying to politicians.)  Then came the kicker:

The premise of this book is straightforward:  To get ahead in life you can learn a lot from those who get along for a living[.  Again, politicians.  That is:  T]he people who make the biggest impression on me and who’ve actually taught me the tricks of getting ahead in life are the politicians.  I know that goes against the grain…  (Emphasis added.)

(Page xiii, emphasis in original.  But see also Counterintuitive – Wikipedia.)  The point of all this being that Matthews’ thoughts gave me just the inkling of a shocking idea.

Donald TrumpThat “inkling” was that maybe – just maybe – many of our seemingly-dysfunctional politicians today actually do know what they’re doing.  But Matthews had even more to say:

You can say what you want about these masters of power.  They get people to vote for them, give money to their campaigns, trust them with their country.  They possess this wondrous ability, I’ve discovered, to get other people to do just what they want them to do…  The best of these politicians have a sure grip on human nature.  They leave it to the amateurs to believe how people are supposed to behave; they know the secrets of how people actually do.

Here’s another counterintuitive point:  That politicians are good listeners.  As Matthews put it, “They know the deep human need to be paid attention to.”  (On Ronald Reagan’s ability to listen, see The Economist.)  And the best politicians – like Reagan – “can project a sense of hope.”

Of course you could respond that – by their very nature – politicians are devious and Machiavellian. (Like the guy at left.)  And shameless about asking for things.  But – Matthews added – the best politicians are also “upbeat.”  The best politicians – so rare these days – “know the magic of optimism.”

Finally, Matthews added that equally-shocking idea – the one I noted above – that maybe we – we “civilians” – can actually learn from today’s politicians:

I realize that the notion of learning anything of value from politicians cuts against the current mood.  But what these people can teach us about human nature is priceless…  The ability to get along with people … is an art.  Getting people to do what you want them to, I have further learned, is a fine art.

(Page xiv-xv, emphasis in original.)  That In turn led to another shocking thought on my part.

I thought that maybe – just maybe – we citizens despise “all those negative politicians” precisely because they are such an accurate mirror of our own dark side.

That in turn reminded me of a popular quote about lawyers, another despised group:

“The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers…

Marshall engravingThat’s from Henry The Sixth, Part 2 Act 4, scene 2, 71–78, by William Shakespeare.  See Shakespeare Quotes – eNotes.com.  It’s also one of the most misinterpreted quotes of all time, but there’s no doubt the saying is popular.  See Let’s Not … (Above the Law):

Dick the Butcher was a minor character in the middle work of a trilogy of plays the Bard wrote about Henry VI …  and if it weren’t for 10 little words, Dick the Butcher would be largely forgotten.  But those 10 words live on and on, in t-shirts and bumper stickers and coffee mugs and anything else you can slap a quote on.

So here’s my point:  In today’s America we have two despised groups, lawyers and politicians.

And according to people who love to quote Dick the Butcher, the best thing to do would be to kill ‘em all off!   But that probably wouldn’t solve the problem.

The problem with lawyers is – after all – that they’re only doing what their clients want them to do.  (How many clients would tell their lawyer: “Don’t use that dishonorable legal trick.  I’d much rather keep my honor, even if it means spending the rest of my life in prison – and making sure I don’t drop the soap in the shower!”)  Which seems pretty much true of politicians as well.

So the popular view of both lawyers and politicians seems to go like this:  “It’s not my lawyer – or local political representative – who’s bad.  It’s all those other lawyers, politicians and political representatives who are corrupting the system!”

(And a BTW:  That last was either irony or sarcasm.  Or possibly both…)

Which brings up the fact that – as a former lawyer myself – I came up with what I thought was a much better idea.  That idea was that – when it comes to lawyers – maybe the rule should be this:  “The first thing we do is kill all the clients!

But of course, that wouldn’t solve anything either.  We’re not going to kill all the lawyers, or the clients who pay them to be nasty on their behalf.  (As long as they keep the client happy, as in keeping him from losing his “shirt,” or his “virtue,” as in prison…)  And we’re also not going to kill off all the politicians, or the people who vote for them to be “nasty on their behalf.”

Which brings up again the likely reason so many people don’t like either lawyers or politicians today:  They accurately reflect our own dark side.  (Think “Mirror, Mirror on the Wall: I Am My Mother After All.”)  But – apparently – it wasn’t always that way.

There was a time – in the not-too-distant past – that politicians could actually “sup with their enemies.”

Take for example, Ronald Reagan.  His political arch-enemies included Tip O’Neill and Ted Kennedy.  Yet Reagan could – and did – sup with either or both men.  For one example, even though the two men were politic arch-enemies, Ted Kennedy admired Reagan.

Specifically, Ted Kennedy he admired the fact that Ronald Reagan “knew how to manipulate symbols for his causes yet could sup with his enemies:”

He’s absolutely professional.  When the sun goes down, the battles of the day are really gone.  He gave the Robert Kennedy Medal, which President Carter refused to do…   He’s very sure of himself, and I think that people sense that he’s comfortable with himself…   He had a philosophy and he’s fought for it.  There’s a consistency and continuity at a time when many others are flopping back and forth.  And that’s an important and instructive lesson for politicians, that people admire that.

See “Great politicians sell hope.”  So one theme of this post is that we “civilians” can – according to Chris Matthews – learn a lot from today’s professional politicians.

But another theme could well be that today’s politicians could learn a lot from the best politicians of the past.  And one of the most revered conservative politicians of the past was Ronald Reagan.  See for example Ronald Reagan: Conservative Statesman.  (But see also If Ronald Reagan ran today, where would he fall on the conservative spectrum?)

So in closing, we could easily say that we could use a lot more of Reagan’s professionalism from today’s politicians – on both sides of the aisle.  (Referring to “the skill, good judgment, and polite behavior that is expected from a person who is trained to do a job well.”)

Now that’s what I would call True Conservativism

 

1006-ronald-reagan-tip-O'neill-ftr

Just imagine Paul Ryan putting his arm around President Obama…

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The upper image is courtesy of www.boston.com/bigpicture/2009/08/senator_ted_kennedy.  The caption:  “Senator Edward Kennedy talks with President Ronald Reagan, left, on June 24, 1985, as they look over an American Eagle that graced President John F. Kennedy’s desk during a fund raising event for the John F. Kennedy Memorial Library at McLean, Virginia.  (AP Photo/Charles Tasnadi).”  

Re: “LIfe’s a Campaign.”  For a link to the book version, see Life’s a Campaign: What Politics Has Taught Me About Friendship, Rivalry, Reputation, and Success.

Re: “Core base.”  I was going to write “wacko base,” but thought better of it…

Re: “Fuhgeddaboudit!!”  That site noted, “‘Fuhgeddaboudit’ seems to have become a pop cultural meme around the time of the 1997 film Donnie Brasco.”  The image to the left of the paragraph featuring the quote is courtesy of Donnie Brasco (1997) – IMDb.


Re: Today’s gridlock.  See for example Gridlock in Congress? It’s probably even worse than you think (Washington Post), Political gridlock: Unprecedentedly dysfunctional, (The Economist), and Political Gridlock – Huffington Post.  

Re: “Situation normal.”  See Military slang – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

The Donald Trump image is courtesy of businessinsider.com/donald-trump-has-been-fired.

 Re: Ronald Reagan’s ability to listen.  The complete citation is US presidential endorsements | The Economist.  (Which included the illustration at right.)  Under 1980: Ronald Reagan:  “Many, though by no means all, of [Reagan’s] current advisers are indeed sound, and the evidence from his time governing California and from what the more impressive of them say is that his greatest quality is to be a good listener – though not to the legislature, which he treated with disdain.”

Re: “Most misinterpreted quotes of all time.”  See A Line Misinterpreted.  

The Shakespeare image is courtesy of PICTURES of WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE.

The “mirror mirror” image is courtesy of studio773pillows.easternaccents.com/pv-32486-Mirror-Mirror-on-the-wall.

Re:  Ted Kennedy on Ronald Reagan.  See Battle for Justice: How the [Robert] Bork Nomination Shook America, by Ethan Bronner, Anchor Book edition (1989), at page 104. 

Re: Ronald Reagan as a conservative statesmen.  According to If Ronald Reagan ran today, where would he fall on the conservative spectrum:  “Conservative Republicans today don’t have one Reagan-type to coalesce around…  ‘There was only one Ronald Reagan and the eternal quest to try and clone him retrospectively is a failed mission.'”  For another view, see also 10 Things Conservatives Don’t Want You To Know About Ronald Reagan.

The lower image is courtesy of parade.com/170490/1006-ronald-reagan-tip-oneill, from a post titled “Making Political Frenemies,” the gist of which is as follows:

The conservative president and the liberal House speaker found themselves constantly at odds during the six years they helmed their respective institutions, yet they managed to pass landmark legislation through divided government.

See also politico.com/story/2013/10/when-politics-worked-chris-matthews-colorful-memoir.  For other views of the relationship between Reagan and O’Neill, see Pat Buchanan: ‘There’s a Lot of Myth About Tip O’Neill and Reagan, and Sorry Chris – Tip and the Gipper didn’t like each other.  Which of course seems to be precisely the point:  That the two political enemies could work together – as “professional” politicians – even if they didn’t like each other…

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Other thoughts from Life’s a Campaign:  1)  That making new friends, dealing with opponents, and getting out their message “comes with the territory” of being a politician:  “It’s called campaigning.” And  2)  That “when it comes to pushing their own careers, I can assure you, the best politicians know exactly what they’re doing.”