For the sake of simplicity, I’d like to convey the idea that our elected officials—those who, at least in theory, work for us—can be categorized into two different and distinct archetypes.
On the one hand, there are politicians. These are the self-serving types of individuals who always seem to mudsling, fear-monger, and flip-flop their way into “public service.” They are typically influenced by Big Money and Special Interests (or, in the event that an issue of particular impact cannot be ignored, the voting electorate). Most often, they are motivated by the urge to seek out influence and power as well as the [possible] long-term security of a career in public office. And more often than not, their scruples and sense of honor tends to plummet as a result of their holding onto the power of their positions (as we’ve seen so often in the scandals that happen with shameful regularity).
One the other hand, there are the statesmen. Statesmen are the rare breed who actually assumes the responsibilities of public office with the intent to work on behalf of the greater good; they actually want to do something on behalf of the country (as opposed self-gain). They are motivated by the needs and/or wants of the American public (even if their policy beliefs skirt the boundaries of dogmatic ideology), influenced (for the most part) by conscious, and tend to continue working on behalf of people even after public office.
Insofar as local and federal elected officials, sadly there are way too many of the former and a precious few of the latter (especially in Congress). As far as presidents—past and present—go, it’s pretty much a mixture in every sense of the word. Jimmy Carter was neither a statesman nor politician, but an idealist who found himself in a world run by the principle of real politicks (he more or less assumed the role of statesman after his tenure as president). Ronald Reagan (despite the fact that I didn’t/don’t agree with a few of his domestic policies, especially those which hit the poor particularly hard) was a statesman in most senses of the word. George Bush I started as a politician who morphed into a statesman. Bill Clinton became a politician by circumstance. George Bush II was a victim of circumstances who tried to be a statesman…to less than stellar results. Barack Obama—and yes, I know how many view him—I believe to be working in the interests of the greater good, despite attacked on all fronts. He has the savvy of a politician, but desires to be a statesman.
With regard to politicians, I could easily use this forum to soapbox and give them my two cents on how best they could serve the country as statesmen rather than politicians. But in lieu of giving people the benefit of my objective opinion, I will step aside and allow the words and wisdom of Black Entertainment Television founder and self-made billionaire Robert Johnson to speak to this issue. Last month, he was interviewed by the CBS Evening News in an effort to get the input on how best to deal with the impasse in executing policy and legislation, how to fix the ailing economy, and how to work for the benefit of every American.
To sum up his take on how to best approach American's problems, the self-made businessman calls for the need for those seeking positions in public service to sacrifice.