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Principled Politics?

Most people, we suspect, believe there is more honor among thieves than politicians

As always with sweeping statements, there is truth behind them—and also exceptions. Whatever its flaws—and it has its share—our system of government was carefully constructed to ensure that extreme elements cannot dominate—at least not for long. This balance is not a particularly delicate one, however, and often the result is a messy process that lurches erratically from crisis to crisis (cliff to cliff?)and only occasionally rises to true statesmanship.

But as with any endeavor, participants in the political arena choose to operate along the high road or the low road.

If you read the cover story this month (p. 24), you'll come away with a clear sense of where ABA stands in that regard. Several of the trade group's senior staff members counsel strongly against personal politics—that is, letting policy disagreements devolve into a feeling of ill will toward your opponent.

If Congress is a reflection of the people it represents (a sobering thought) then it's clear that taking things personally is a tendency many of us must have. If we think that way, we'll act accordingly, and nothing will be accomplished other than digging an entrenched attitude
even deeper.

Says Mike Hunter, ABA's chief operating officer, "You start disliking someone and you discount everything they say." How true that is. If you like someone, they're confident. If you dislike them, they're obnoxious.

ABA's EVP of Congressional Relations James Ballentine expands on the point, saying, "You may not be a fan of a particular Senator or House member, but that member has a vote. You try to find some areas to work
together."

This isn't easy at any time, but in recent years it has become more difficult, given the highly personalized attacks used by many politicians running for office and in fights over bills. In many ways government has become dysfunctional because of how negative and personal politics has become. ABA has endeavored to walk a more factual, less personal path through this minefield. This approach achieves more than a take-no-prisoners stance.

While ABA does not endorse presidential candidates, clearly the association was not happy about how the industry was portrayed by the Administration. Even so, as Mike Hunter says in the article, the American people gave President Obama a second term, and "you can't
ignore that."

Some might simply call this attitude expedient.In cases it might be.

But principled and practical behavior are not mutually exclusive. In the movie, Lincoln, the 16th President is portrayed as a canny politician as well as a principled man and a determined leader. As Lincoln said in another context, "I destroy my enemies when I make them my friends."

It may be a stretch to think of an annoying elected official becoming a friend. Nevertheless a lot can be accomplished by at least being civil and attempting to find common ground.

Bill Streeter

Bill Streeter has been a full-time business journalist for 40 years, 34 of them with ABA Banking Journal. During his time with the magazine, he rose from Assistant Managing Editor to Editor-in-Chief. He has guided the magazine’s editorial direction since 1985 and has been an observer of momentous changes in banking, from the introduction of ATMs to the 2008 financial crisis and passage of the Dodd-Frank Act. In 2012 Streeter became Editor & Publisher, responsible for the Banking Group overall including the magazine, ababj.com, and related e-newsletters.

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