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Mark Shields
Mark Shields
6 Feb 2016
Cracking the Code of Campaign-Speak

"Do you ever get the feeling," asked humorist Robert Orben, "that the only reason we have elections is to … Read More.

30 Jan 2016
Is There Only One True Progressive?

Mark Shields is off this week. The following is a column by Joe Conason. In our polarized politics, the … Read More.

23 Jan 2016
The Man Who Drowned Democracy With 'Sewer Money'

Mark Shields is off this week. The following is a column by Joe Conason. This week marked the anniversary of … Read More.

The Anti-Washington Candidate


Republicans are seen, and most Republicans see themselves, as the anti-government party. Republican solutions to most of the country's problems begin with, or at a minimum include, shrinking the size, scope and spending of government — unless you're discussing the military budget. Democrats, in stark contrast, mostly believe the government can be and has been an instrument of both social justice and economic growth.

Somebody much smarter than I, with a dollop of cynicism, once observed that American voters send pro-government Democrats to Washington to be sure voters get all the benefits and services the federal government offers and that those same voters send anti-tax Republicans to Washington so that they, the voters, will not have to pay for those government services.

An old Irish saying held that the Devil was an angel until he started knocking his old hometown. There is no recorded evidence that President Barack Obama has ever heard this line. But he certainly does, especially for a Democrat, spend a lot of time knocking his adopted hometown of Washington — a place he has spent the better part of six years of his life and a couple of billion dollars in order to live in its most prestigious public housing.

To a crowd in Seattle, the president announced, "It's good to be outside of Washington." Nevadans heard Obama declare: "You know, it's always a pleasure to get out of Washington. Washington is OK, but it's nice taking time to talk to Americans of every walk of life outside the nation's capital."

Cannon Falls, Minn.: "So I am very pleased to be out of Washington." Strongsville, Ohio: "Good to be here in the Buckeye State. And it's even better to be out of Washington for a while."

Why so eager to leave D.C.? To Asheville, N.C.: "Not much listening" (in Washington), too much "political point-scoring."

To Racine, Wis.: "But it's wonderful to be here, and it's just nice to get out of Washington." Columbus, Ohio, heard the president criticize sharply the "kind of game-playing we've gotten used to in Washington," while Denver learned that "a lot of folks have lost confidence in Washington." So voters don't much like or trust Washington? Neither, if you listen to what he has said, does their Democratic president.

Who can argue, after Obama became the only U.S. president since hero Dwight David Eisenhower, to win a majority of the popular vote in successive national elections, that voters have not been charmed or impressed by the president's anti-Washington lyrics?

But missing from such rhetoric is the Democrats' historic summons to a public sector that abolished slavery, ended racial segregation, saved the Great Lakes and built the world's greatest higher education system. Absent is the inspiring call of John Kennedy: "Let the public service be a good and lively career. And let every man and woman who works in an area of our national government, in any branch, at any level, be able to say with pride and with honor in future years, 'I served the United States government in that hour of our nation's need.'"

This is about much more than words or quotes. It is about a national mood and spirit that an American president can influence or even inspire. After thousands of Americans, during the New Frontier, volunteered to join the brand-new Peace Corps, skeptics were astonished.

Perhaps the best explanation for that remarkable outpouring was offered by a young woman who became a volunteer: "I'd never done anything political, patriotic or unselfish, because nobody ever asked me to — Kennedy asked." Will the same be said 50 years from now about Americans who had been inspired to public service — that Obama asked?

To find out more about Mark Shields and read his past columns, visit the Creators Syndicate web page at




4 Comments | Post Comment
Sir;... It is hardly the same voters who send both democrats and republicans to government...The democrat voters need goverment to work, and believe it can, and republicans do not want government to work because they feel threatened by it... In this respect both party's voters are living in dream land...Not a thing the republican voters find essential for their wealth, their comfort, or their commerce would be possible without government and public interest... They think they do it all themselves only because their heads are full of stuffing... The democrats cannot make the government work because it is too distant from the people, there is not enough of actual representation, and the power in the hands of a few invites corruption... Their need, and all our needs for good government does not matter when people see their chances, and they take 'em... When government is by actual rich people, they will see things as a rich person sees things, and argument, or the corrosion of any soul will be unnecessary....
It is the left, the liberals, and the base of the democratic party who have seen the worst of government, of abuses of authority and police powers; and why they want government to have any more of the worst sort of power is a mystery; but no democrat president ever gives up power garnered by any republican president... Do they think the people have any protection??? Does the constitution truly protect anyone??? Do they think one of their own party will hold the office forever??? As government fails because it has too much of power without the consent of the governed, that power is centralized in the president who has truly dictatorial powers...And he would be little more than a marionette, if the House of Representatives worked, and actually represented this people...
If we look at the goals of government as listed in the preamble; they are all good and worthy... Good is the aim of government if you believe Aristotle, since that is the goal of all human activity... If a person created a machine for producing some good, and it produced something other, or nothing at all; they would tear it down, and sell it for scrap... Clearly, at some point, people had a vision in Washington of the power and magnitude of this nation, and of their own power and prerogotives -to have built the massive megalithic structures that all but scream impediment into the ears of visitors... And this is natural becaue social forms are built to resist change; but none of them are imune to evolution or unassailable by revolution... It is their intransigence, their intractability that makes revolution possible and necessary...
Those who need government to work, and those who fear what government could do if it worked at all are in the same boat... It is not for want of good goals that government has failed, but because everyone has put self gain before national good...We should take as our moto that: No one can take an honest man... This is not to say that virtuous people are not daily robbed, but to have the government and so have the country snatched from under your nose requires immorality on a massive scale... We did not mind stealing the land from King or native... We see there how tenuous are property relations, and yet, we tried to enshrine our own...Then, under what circumstances and agreement does a person own a piece of the commonwealth if they will not pay taxes to those who support the right of private property???
We advance the cause of civil rights for Americans... A good enough thing on the surface...But if we will, as we have, support slavery, poverty, and exploitation to the death of others all over the globe, can we be surprised that our government does not protect us when our personal immorality has allowed so much to injustice, and denied it so little???
If we find the enemy behind our bad government, it will be us, so perhaps our mutual self hatred is entitled... But it is not because any people, specifically this people, are good that we need good government because if we were good we would need no government... It is because we are so personally given to corruption and immorality that we must have good government, capable where in need capability, and powerless where it might hurt us...And now it is just the opposite, incapable where it needs power, and powerful where it can hurt us...

Most of rank and file republicans are absolutely correct in fearing their government because so long as it serves the rich and protects wealth from taxation it will reduce all small holders to poverty... The democrat rank and file are wrong to believe they can make government work because that would take a tremendous amount of will coupled with dire necessity, and short of that, would require some serious amendments of the constitution that without the will to enforce would be so much ink on paper...
Watching the sinking of a society is like watching the sinking of a ship, and this is no toy ship... If the weight of the commonwealth made private is taking down the ship of state, and taking down the lives of every one of us, funding feud, and hatred between us, and making civil war imminant; then it is time to throw the private wealth over as an idea, and keep the commonwealth...
The destruction of a society can be a long and messy affair leaving death and desolation in its wake... Look at Italy and Greece to see how places once great could become a doormat to anyone who cared to plant a flag... We have to find our soul, our essential American Spirit, and create a song from all the cheers and cries and groans from a thousand battlefields on which ours have fought, and for all those who died for freedom and our happiness- so lately robbed from us...
We need good government that works so we can be ourselves without working so hard for the pleasure... We must turn our backs on the government, and make friends with our best enemy because he will serve us better than the worst friend ever; of government...
We do not have to build for eternity to have something of value today... With all the values to choose from, a government needs but one: A utilitarian value... Everyone has to be able to use it for some good without exhausting the ability of it to provide good for all...
Comment: #1
Posted by: James A, Sweeney
Fri Feb 15, 2013 7:18 AM
There is quite a bit of soul missing in this admin, that's for sure. There is no exhortation to volunteer service to fill some of the gaps left by cuts. Instead the message is, "we don't gotta show no stinkin cuts. We're going to keep on spending because it's good for the economy." (Conversely, I'm remembering a long time ago when Jimmie Carter's bro said that when some folks say "that's bad, man," bad actually means good.)

I guess in some strange way my mind is attuned to Mark's--a couple of days ago a distant memory of Kennedy's "ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country" speech just popped into my head. I think that was my subconscious reaction to what was missing in the Obama Show this week.

I will tell you one thing. The Democrats spit in the face of state and local government workers all over the country by trying to give federal employees a special deal on their salaries and pensions. Government workers everywhere (not to mention private sector workers) are being asked to take salary cuts and increases in their pension contributions, but the special fed employees, beneficiaries of the great money-printing machine, think it is a hardship to suffer a freeze in their increases for a few years. And, frankly, the indifferent, screw-the-customer attitude of a great many of them shows it.

This is not a good day for government. The Repes are utterly clueless, the Dems are controlled by big labor and in high gear trying to ply their tired old now-it's-our-turn system of rewards and perks for faithful supporters and cronies, and the whole herd is scrambling lemming-like toward the cliff.

Reminds me of the old Larsen cartoon about the dinosaur convention where the head dinosaur is saying "Folks, we're really in a bind. The Ice Age is coming, the mammals are taking over the planet, and we all have brains the size of a pea."
Comment: #2
Posted by: Masako
Fri Feb 15, 2013 6:58 PM
Re: Masako;...Sir.. The poor have given absolutely all they can to the economy and have nothing left to give... They are the first to demand better education because they know they need it so badly, but they cannot -because of their own want of education, support the schools in the education of their children... None of us is in a position to drive, discipline our children, or punish them... You can only push kids so far, and usually no further than the next child is pushed...You have influence only, and that is only as good as the example you can set, and if you have a highschool diploma that serves you no good, and you are dependent and with children, your advice on self improvement will be laughed off...
The middle classes are stuggling to keep their heads above water... If they have children they must work constantly to keep their kids from suffering permanently their temporary stupidity... It is all good and well to talk about giving to your country, but when the economy takes everything it can out of people there is simply nothing left for strangers, the needy, or the government...

These people of the middle class who resist taxes have a point even if they are acting in the service of the rich...You do not cure the disease of poverty, especially poverty associated with so much disease, mental and physical- by treating it... Supporting people in poverty, but not doing anything to free up social communications only makes certain people born into poverty will die in poverty no matter what is their level of intelligence...
For the rich and the near rich, the situation is the same; that they can count on dieing with what they are born with; if they are reasonably intelligent... But the middle class has no reasonable expectation of gain, and every danger of falling into poverty... The only people who can give to society, or country are the very same taking the most out of it who are all making every attempt to make their wealth hereditary to their class and children so it is never returned to the commonwealth...

Kennedy's words were so much bunk with a nice ring to it, but no significance...I give a significant part of my time to gathering and sending clothing and beding to the Native Americans; NAHA... They give a great receipt, and I can declare it on my taxes which helps to pay for it... I do not shet myself about my ability to actually offer meaningful help to these desperatly poor people; but I grew up with natives, worked with natives, and I have learned much from natives, and I am obliged to try to help... Yet; if I have not given enough then it is just as good to give nothing and go with a short form that rewards people for who regularly give nothing... I will be doing my taxes this weekend so I will find out if the hundreds of pounds I have bought and sent counts for any thing but character... My point is, that whether you want to help or not, the problem of poverty is becoming so extreme that individuals can do nothing to dent the problem...I use every voice I can find to ask for and demand justice because it is in the job description of government...

Perfect union was thought by the courts to mean only the union between the states... If the federal government did its job it would ensure a strong national union of the people, person to person, and there would be no need of trade unions, or association dedicated to achieving some measure of equality or justice...
Not one of the aims of the preamble of the constitution have been taken seriously... Even defense has been compromised in so many fashions by the grudge our industry has built up against us, and by the political and economic wars of choice we have made...The best defense is many friends and we have traded on our friendships and abused humanity...
So long as this people can still talk and tell the truth it is the greatest kindness and public service any of us can do to speak out...The rich have had government their way... This situation of wide spread poverty and general hopelessness, this grind of government bankruptcy, and economic depression is the end of all the principals the rich hold dear...

As much as I will always choose to pull the thorn out of the wound of poverty for anyone at any time, I do not propose this as the time for sympathy... Rub some dirt on it, and get back to your post because liberty itself is in the balance... If they can take the commonwealth, they can take our rights, and we cannot live at all without them...If the rich have plotted a course toward the destruction of this country and her government, then it is time for us to be thinking about what after... Let us write a new and better constitution based upon human rights and social obligation... Let us keep the preamble of the old constitution, and fill in the blank after, with meaning..
Comment: #3
Posted by: James A, Sweeney
Sat Feb 16, 2013 10:28 AM
Re: James A, Sweeney. I'm not sure you really read what I wrote. Can you go through it one more time?
Comment: #4
Posted by: Masako
Mon Feb 18, 2013 7:42 PM
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Marc Dion
Marc DionUpdated 8 Feb 2016
Mark Shields
Mark ShieldsUpdated 6 Feb 2016
Susan EstrichUpdated 5 Feb 2016

6 Feb 2016 Cracking the Code of Campaign-Speak

6 Feb 2010 The Unspeakable Truth

13 Jan 2012 Tolerant Americans 2012