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Believing in Politics

I associate driving in rural America with listening to NPR. The NPR stations often have strong signals even in the backwoods. Scariest drive of my life, the Ozarks, an ice storm, five hours in a rental car crawling on winding mountain roads lined with jack-knifed tractor-trailers, I listened to those calming voices on "All Things Considered" and somehow found my way back to Little Rock. And that classical music, that "Performance Today" kind of stuff, somehow sounds better in deep forest. For some reason it just is more relaxing than listening to, for example, "Dueling Banjos."

Yesterday I took an overnight trip to West Virginia, and during the drive heard a commentary on NPR that was rather shocking, because it was about politicians, and it was positive. That is just not done. Politicians are universally viewed as scum, or worse. But Morning Edition has been running a series of commentaries called "This I Believe," and yesterday morning Mark Shields had one in which he began, "I believe in politics." He said politics remains the best way to resolve conflicts. He said politicians are, by and large, decent human beings, especially when they are classy in defeat:

"I admire enormously the candidate able to face defeat with humor and grace. Nobody ever conceded defeat better than Dick Tuck who, upon losing a California state senate primary, said simply, 'The people have spoken...the bastards.'"

Shields reminds us of a few things that politicians have accomplished over the past six decades:

"I believe in the politics that wrote the GI Bill, that passed the Marshall Plan to rebuild a war-devastated Europe, that saved the Great Lakes and that through Social Security took want and terror out of old age. The kind of politics that teaches us all we owe to those who came before us and those who will come after. That each of us has drunk from wells we did not dig; that each of us has been warmed by fires we did not build."

By Joel Achenbach  |  March 14, 2006; 4:45 PM ET
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