||[Source: Draft prepared for The Cowles Comprehensive Encyclopedia,
in Alpha Files, 1964, Leerburger; revised draft in Remarks and
Releases. Model Statements. "Politics" (See also Dirksen Information
File, "Politics as a Career.")]
Years ago, a polling agency which samples public opinion at
the national level asked the fathers and mothers of the nation
whether they would like to see a son or daughter pursue a political
career. The answer was a resounding, unanimous "no" and the reason
assigned was that it was a corrupt, dishonest, immoral field
of endeavor which could only defile one who entered that domain.
This is a strange but understandable attitude. It is understandable
because mass media inevitably brings the evils of politics and
the peccadilloes of politicians inevitably reach the front page
and make racy reading. On the other hand, it is a strange attitude
because politics as the profession dealing with the management
of public affairs at every level, whether local, state, or national,
conditions the very climate in which virtually all human activity
Today, the farmer, the laborer, the businessman, the industrialist,
and the educator are directly affected by governmental action.
One can name no field of activity which Directly or indirectly
is not touched by public law or regulation and hence the art
of government becomes increasingly important. Moreover, every
year sees a deeper and deeper intrusion of government into the
affairs of people and this intrusion is spelled out in terms
of those who direct and manage the affairs of government.
Is the political field a worthwhile endeavor? The honest answer
is that it is frustrating, it is disappointing, it is disillusioning
but along with all this, it is exciting and brings a rich satisfaction
in terms of service rendered to community, state and nation.
And to the people who are served.
What then are the opportunities in political life? They are
many and varied. But to provide a more specific answer, it is
necessary to analyze the political field.
The first determination to be made is whether the individual
interest lies in the field of local, state, or national politics.
To this should be added the field of party politics, aside from
the field of public office. Whatever the interest - whether the
goal be the governorship, other state office, the mayoralty of
a city, a councilman or alderman, the Congress, or the Presidency
- the objective must determine the course to pursue and the specialization
of effort and preparation to be undertaken.
Still another choice or determination must be made and that
is whether one has in mind the field of elective of administrative
Administrative office is also a part of the political domain.
At the national level it would include the Cabinet, the heads
of the many Federal agencies and bureaus and in fact that huge
group from a humble file clerk to a top administrator in government.
In the State field, it would include the same general group from
department heads on down, and likewise in the local field.
To give some hint of how extensive the whole political domain
really is, a recent estimate indicates that there are in round
figures 2,500,000 persons on the Federal civilian payroll and
7,000,000 on state and local rolls. To be sure, these estimates
include both blue collar and white collar workers of all types
and classifications, but they are still impressive in indicating
how governmental activity at all levels has grown, and it is
fair to say that on the basis of historical perspective, that
it will continue to grow..
To anyone interested in the administrative field, one can give
only a general hint of the preparation to be made. Today there
are thousands of lawyers in government. A basic legal education
will suffice, leaving specialization to come later. The Department
of Agriculture has a veritable army of employees and obviously
the top career positions are occupied by those who have become
specialists in some field of agriculture. This might well be
said of the growing interest in Space and space technology. In
any event the goal is important for it will automatically dictate
the type of preparation which must be made.
But turning now to the elective field, which unlike the administrative
or bureaucratic field is a more precarious career, in the sense
that one can make it a lifetime work only by the sufferance of
the voters, the approach is quite different.
There is however no absolute rule. It has been so often observed
that a young man or woman preparing for a venture into politics
should begin at the very bottom of the political structure and
advance from there. One can point to many Governors, Senators,
Congressmen, Mayors and others, who had very little contact if
any with party organization but who were elected because they
were well known and had succeeded in some other line of endeavor
whether it was law, business, industry or some other field.
Generally speaking, however, it is a good rule to take an elementary
approach and learn what makes politics tick. To be nominated
for and elected to public office, whether local, state, or national,
is essentially a party matter. The major political parties -
Republican and Democrat - could function only through a vertical
organization which runs from the precinct committeeman and county
chairman, through the State organization and on up to the National
Committee and the National Chairman. Through party service, one
can place himself in line for a party call to fill a place on
the ballot and, hence, the precinct - the very keystone of the
party structure - is the ideal place to begin.
No better experience can be had than to volunteer for work in
the precinct and at the party headquarters in a campaign. Here,
as at no other level, one gets the feel of voter reactions, the
nature of the appeal to be made by the candidates, the quality
of party literature, candidate personalities, how votes might
be influenced, the importance of personality in securing the
confidence of the voter, and a score of other elements which
enter into a campaign. This basic knowledge obviously leads to
advancement in the party councils, and readies the individual
for the day when he would like to see his own name on the ballot.
What basic academic or professional preparation does one make
for all this? All basic knowledge is useful whether it be the
study of the classics, or history, or economics or science. But
several specific items merit emphasis. The first is logical thought
in presenting a case, whether for the party or for oneself. The
second is a capacity to fluently present the case in terms that
the public will readily understand. The third is that type of
poise which begets confidence. The fourth is the development
of a manner which wins friends since this whole political art
is an intensely human business. The fifth is a facility for using
the means of communication such as newspapers, radio, and television
because the individual must rely heavily on these to reach the
vast electorate whom he can never contact or see because of the
limitations of time, energy and numbers. How then shall a young
man or a young woman start a political career? Perhaps when all
is said and done, there is only one worthwhile and very succinct
piece of advice. Make a start.