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'Politician' should be a term of praise, not disdain

The election is over and the strident rhetoric has subsided. However, something never seems to change -- and that is the vilification and disparagement of "politicians." We hear it at every side from TV pundits, comedians, the media in general and even from ordinary citizens. Our recent election is a case in point. To my dismay, candidate Jack Davis, among others, proudly proclaimed: "I am not a politician" as if this somehow uniquely qualifies him to hold public office.

In my view, politicians are elected officials with a vocation to further the public good. They approach difficult problems with an open mind, seeking compromise and consensus. Flip-flopping (having the ability to see the light and change one's mind) seems to disqualify a politician in some circles. However, I see that as an essential trait in someone seeking to move an agenda.

Some citizens feel term limits should be a prerequisite. This seems to imply that dedication and experience don't count for much. They fail to realize that only makes office holders more beholden to entrenched bureaucrats, lobbyists and special interests.

Real politicians can hold their principles passionately, yet not achieve complete success. Unfortunately, when they do a good job, their efforts are met with disdain from ideologues of the radical right and the far left who seem to feel that compromise is a sign of weakness.

Our Constitution, esteemed throughout the world today, was not universally acclaimed when it was written. Although almost every clause was argued and disputed, a fragile but enduring document resulted even though many of the challenging issues they faced remain with us today. Our Founding Fathers were adroit politicians who put aside personal animosities and profound differences to seek unappreciated middle ground.

For too long our politics has been dominated by uncompromising ideologues who appeal to fringe single-issue voters with sound bites and slogans while avoiding problems that really matter. It's too bad that many voters, TV talking heads, bloggers, etc. think that a "good" politician is one who agrees with their biases and a "bad" one does not. They see civility and collegiality as weakness.

Appeals to the zealous may win elections but do not move the country's agenda forward. "They're all alike" seems to keep too many moderates from doing their duty on Election Day. Hopefully this past election indicates that moderates are finally realizing extremists are taking us in the wrong direction by accomplishing nothing.

Politics, in this age of a sharply divided electorate, cries out for real politicians who can grease the wheels of our democracy and make it move smoothly. Our prayer for America should be that those who aspire to this most demanding profession be not dissuaded by unthinking voters who equate accommodation with a lack of integrity.

Henry N. Stahl Jr. of Amherst was Buffalo's University District councilman in 1969-1970.

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