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A Renewal of Statesmanship

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Robert Brescia
March 20, 2023

I think it is high time for the United States Senate and its members to do some real soul searching and to weigh our consciences as to the manner in which we are performing our duty to the people of America and the manner in which we are using or abusing our individual powers and privileges…I do not believe the American people will uphold any political party that puts political exploitation above national interest. Surely, we Republicans are not that desperate for victory. I do not want to see the Republican Party win that way. While it would be a fleeting victory for the Republican Party, it would be a more lasting defeat for the American people.” – Margaret Chase Smith, speech to the U.S. Senate, June 1, 1950.

Currently, we are plagued with too many public servants who haven’t a clue about practicing statesmanship as part of their daily contributions. We have some who scream back at those giving speeches that they disagree with, throwing fits and tantrums, perhaps believing that such behavior will convince others to line up behind them. We have others in powerful positions who deliberately put a “stick in the spokes” of those trying to reach a compromise so that something can get done. We have elected officials who lied profusely in order to get elected, then claim “no harm, no foul”. We have selfish legislators who only care about their media image rather than serving the folks back in their home districts. We have flip-floppers who say one thing and do another. This country is politically center-slightly right in its perspectives. That is the area where deals and agreements are made—not at the extremes. Statesmen live in that hallowed center ground—not at the extreme left or right.

John Shaw, author of Restoring American Statesmanship – A Citizen’s Guide, correctly describes the current malaise in our political leadership:

Americans are troubled and divided. Polls show a sharp decline of trust in most institutions including churches, newspapers, television and internet news, corporations, Congress, the Supreme Court, and the Presidency. We have become suspicious of anyone claiming expertise. Most disturbing of all is a poisonous distrust among citizens, with young people now the least likely to trust others. Historian David M. Kennedy observes that a “culture of distrust pervades virtually every aspect of modern American life.”

According to the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute, statesmanship is inspired leadership characterized by civility, vision, courage, compassion and effectiveness. It is truly the developed and highest order of the art and profession of public service. An American statesman is someone who has a deep respect for universal truths, using American values and principles as a foundation for action. Statesmanship enables trust and reliability—its foundation remains solid and can be relied on by everyone. A statesman doesn’t pander to separate audiences; he is the same each time you hear and see him. The statesman shuns media campaigns, opting for the power of the written and spoken word; he is an accomplished public speaker. A statesman practices civility.

A well-known Texas statesman, former Attorney General John Ben Shepperd, published the Public Official’s Creed in a speech to the Texas Association of Constables and Justices of the Peace, Houston, Texas, May 30, 1953:

A conscientious public official serves the people as guardian of their welfare, defender of their institutions, servant of their will and champion of their cause, by dedicating himself to:

  • Putting God and Country above party, persons and private interests.
  • Striving to promote a religious State but to avoid a State Religion.
  • Safeguarding the people’s right to free, unfettered elections, the secret ballot and the honest count.
  • Encouraging decentralized government as a safeguard to the liberties of the people, and to keep government their servant and not their master.
  • Upholding the law and expose corruption wherever it may be, and to oppose those who break the law in spirit as well as those who violate it in letter.
  • Striving to make his office an example of efficiency, economy and integrity.
  • Giving a day’s work for a day’s pay, and to require the same of his employees.
  • Making no private promises, grant no special favors and receives no personal gifts which would compromise his official integrity.
  • Using no official power or information for personal gain to himself or to others.
  • Defending the institution of private enterprise by keeping government out of business and out of competition with private capital.
  • Keeping the public informed of his office’s activities, to respect the right and function of the Press as the people’s informant and to invite public scrutiny and constructive criticism.
  • Assisting the public schools in the civic education of children.
  • Being attentive to the activities and needs of other offices and branches of the government.
  • Striving to make his personal conduct exemplary of morality and good citizenship, and to fulfill the duties of a private citizen as well as a public servant.

Statesmanship is the hallmark of a great politician and public servant. Let’s demand it from all our representatives.

Author: Dr. Robert Brescia respects the wisdom of generations, promotes the love of learning, teaches ethics to university students, government & politics to AP seniors, and leadership to organizations. He is a candidate for National Board for Certification of Teachers (NBCT) at Stanford University. The Governor of Texas re-appointed him to the State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) for a six-year term. Bob has a doctoral degree with distinction in Executive Leadership from The George Washington University. Contact him at [email protected].

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