The Joy of Politics

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Guest Commentary

You’re probably chuckling already. Seriously? “The joy of politics”?

That was pretty much the reaction I got the other day when, in the middle of a conversation about how confrontational and downright unpleasant politics has become of late, I suggested that it could be both fun and a source of satisfaction.

Yes, of course there are always irritations and inconveniences. And the often mean-spirited tone of today’s contentious politics is well beyond anything I encountered when I was in office.

But none of this erases the satisfactions that also come with the territory. They start with the people you can meet in the political arena: able, ambitious, articulate, often at the top of their game. You’re never lonely in politics, because nothing can be accomplished alone.

Politics is also what allows you to hold government to account, call out its misdeeds and failures, and highlight its successes. You find that you have a voice in the public debate. You’re participating in the success and the direction of your community and your country.

More to the point, you’re trying to change things. As Teddy Roosevelt said in a famous 1910 speech, “It is not the critic who counts…. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena… [Whose] place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat."

It’s true that progress is often incremental. The pleasures come from knowing that you’re doing your best to solve or mitigate problems and fighting for what you think is right.

Politics challenges you to develop your talents, to hone skills — listening, articulating your thoughts, negotiating with able adversaries and partners, building consensus, compromising in the name of moving forward — that are vital in all walks of life. At its best, politics stretches you and makes you live better.

It’s not for everyone. But if you’re serious about being a citizen in a democracy, how can you avoid engaging in it in the manner and to the extent of your choosing? In the end, politics is just how we Americans do our best to help our communities and country become even better places to live. And if you do get involved, here’s my bet: that you’ll have times that make you wonder why you bothered, but you’ll also find plenty of moments that bring you satisfaction, and even joy.

Lee Hamilton was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives for 34 years.

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