Winning the Political Game: Politicians Deserve Respect for Being Down There Pitching

Some 40 years ago, I served an internship with muckraking journalist Jack Anderson in Washington, D.C.

It was a heady experience for a young wannabe reporter from a small western state, rubbing shoulders with Anderson and his famous associates like Les Whitten and Joe Spear. That was during Anderson's heyday, after he helped bring down Richard Nixon and won a Pulitzer Prize, when his column was published by nearly 1,000 newspapers with an audience of some 40 million people. Politicians feared him and his ego was nearly as big as his readership. Anderson wrote his column for more than 50 years.

As an intern, my job with Anderson was to take incoming phone calls and screen the mail for good story tips that might result in items for the column. Dozens of people called or wrote every day, many of them alleging corruption in government or business. During my summer I was fortunate to get several items published in the column and my name mentioned as an Anderson “associate.”

One of my more memorable experiences with Anderson, however, came when I asked him to speak to a large group of college interns working in various Washington positions that summer. Anderson gave his typical speech, with a lot of pontificating and bombast, criticizing and deriding nearly every politician imaginable. At the end, he invited questions, and an intrepid young intern piped up with this dilly: “Mr. Anderson, if you're so smart, why don't you stop complaining and run for office yourself?”

I'll never forget Anderson's response. Without skipping a beat he smiled and said, “Are you kidding? I'd much rather be up here in the stands yelling, ‘Throw the bum out!' than be down there pitching myself.”

I've thought a lot about that over the years, and after stints in both journalism and politics, I've come to have a lot of respect for those elected and appointed officials, the policymakers, who are down there pitching. Our society needs critics up in the stands, and I've done my share of that. But it also needs willing men and women down on the field pitching, and taking the heat and criticism when mistakes are made or things don’t go well.

You politicians are going to get some strikeouts and some walks. And you might throw a few wild pitches. You're going to win some games and lose some games. You're going to hear some heckling and hopefully also some cheers from the stands. Society needs both participants in the game and observers in the stands. Remember that the catcalls from the bleachers come with the territory. You ought to be proud that you’re down there pitching.