How Many 'Walks of Life' Are There?

By Mark Shields

September 18, 2009 4 min read

Tom Corbett is the Republican attorney general of the state (to be more precise, the commonwealth) of Pennsylvania and a candidate for governor. According to his campaign, Corbett deserves a look because he has protected Pennsylvanians "from all walks of life."

Hispanic Heritage Month, we are told by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, is the time "to highlight the accomplishments of Hispanic Americans from 'all walks of life.'"

To read my daily newspaper is to learn that the citizens who came to the Washington, D.C., Tea Party to protest federal government policy, and their fellow Americans who came to rally in support of the public health care option in the current legislation, as well as the membership of the American Motorcyclist Association, all have one thing in common: They come "from all walks of life."

It is obvious that regardless of our political, personal or philosophical preferences, we Americans like to brag that support for the cause, position or activity we back goes beyond people like us and, instead, enlists and appeals to diverse folks from all walks of life.

Of course, as you already knew, nobody knows precisely just how many "walks of life" there are in American political life.

The last administration was conspicuous for its leader's (over)confident strut. Most losing campaigns are cursed by the public stumble or misstep. Voters do not much like the political tiptoe, especially when it is used to duck a controversial question. Nobody on our side of a campaign ever lurches or skulks. Those forms of perambulation are reserved exclusively for individuals with whom we disagree.

The current president has brought back the lope, which his admirers insist is rather a (semi-purposeful) stride. In terms of political popularity, amateur survey research concludes that the amble is still much preferred to the prance or the mince. When it comes to the long tramp of crafting and passing legislation, plodding still works.

The Reagan administration was famous, among its fans, for Walking Tall. Come to think about it, no political cause or candidate has ever boasted about Walking Short. Heightism remains one of this society's most serious and deliberately unaddressed prejudices.

Which illogically raises something that continues to bother me. Reagan was the first president, when boarding or leaving the Marine helicopter, who saluted the Marine enlisted man standing outside. To be fair, the Gipper looked good doing what was never required or endorsed by military custom.

Saluting is generally not prescribed when one's head is uncovered, as the non-saluting Dwight Eisenhower and John Kennedy and Gerald Ford knew from their own wartime experience in military service.

Ever since Reagan, every chief executive has felt obliged to salute, and frankly they look silly doing it. Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama have never appeared natural or comfortable doing it. It is time to drop it and return to the appropriate ways of Ike and JFK.

Back to the walks of life. There is a lot less public consumption of alcohol in official Washington than there was a generation ago. This has resulted in the marked reduction in politicians staggering under the influence of white wine, but they're still understandably being staggered by bad poll numbers.

Let us hope that regardless of which walk of life we come from or prefer, that we can somehow learn to finally walk humbly together.

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

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