How You Can Start and Operate a Soup Kitchen

Mission Possible: How You Can Start and Operate a Soup Kitchen

'Natural' politicians not a valued commodity

When it comes to food products nowadays something new has replaced the once iconic "Good Housekeeping" seal of approval. That is the term "natural," which is popping up everywhere. The adjective is becoming ubiquitous according to author Michael Pollan, who, in a recent article titled "Altered State," explores the "misuse of the adjective in marketing such edible oxymorons as "natural" Cheetos Puffs, "all-natural" Sun Chips, "all-natural" Naked Juices, "100 percent all-natural" Tyson chicken nuggets and so forth.

According to Pollan, "Something in the human mind, or heart, seems to need a word of praise for all that humanity hasn't contaminated, and for us that word now is 'natural'." So revered is the term "natural" nowadays "that among the anti-vaccination crowd, for example, it's not uncommon to read about the superiority of something called "natural immunity," brought about by exposure to the pathogen in question rather than to the deactivated (and therefore harmless) version of it made by humans in laboratories."

For as long as I could remember when the word "natural" was used as an adjective before the word "politician," it was as in food merchandizing, a term of endearment. It was reserved for a select group of politicians who had a natural proclivity towards politics. The public viewed "natural" politicians like FDR, LBJ, Ted Kennedy and Ronald Reagan with esteem. Their ability to cross the aisle to get legislation passed was viewed positively. The stories of Tip O'Neill and Reagan huddling to get things done was seen as a good thing. A recent review of the book "Reagan: the Life" by H.W. Brand described him as "an "ideologist" who was open to compromises even on taxes and federal spending.

Until recently, "natural" politicians were viewed as the Ray Hobbs of politics, a reference to the inborn talents of the character played by Robert Redford in the iconic baseball movie, "The Natural."

Natural politicians relished the grins and grips of politics and could make everyone whose hand they grasped along a rope line feel like they were the politician's best friend. Bill Clinton was the best "natural" politician I ever watched. No one who saw him operate could deny he had a natural gift for politics. He loved the retail aspects of politics and it showed.

Nowadays being viewed as a natural politician is no longer a virtue. I suspect that if you asked your typical focus group to define the attributes of a "natural" politician the following terms of non-endearment would be forthcoming: conniver, crook, dishonest, lacking in principles, manipulator, sleazy and wheeler-dealer.

How did we get to the place where we no longer view "natural" politicians, skilled in the art of politics, as virtuous? It is a consequence of the severe polarization of our politics. We live in a time when all too many of us view all issues and individuals in black vs. white – good vs. evil terms. Dogmatism, rigidity and rancor reign supreme. There is very little common ground. Too many liberals view all conservative as heartless and too many conservatives view all liberals as saps.

The gaping differences between the two parties is highlighted by Paul Starr and Robert Kuttner in a recent issue of The American Prospect: "If you want to control climate change, there is no splitting the difference with people who deny it is happening. If you want to reduce economic inequality, there is no way to join forces with those who favor policies that help the rich and hurt the poor. If you see big money as a corrosive force in democracy, there is little chance that the beneficiaries of that money will sign up for effective reform. The idea of transcending partisan differences works only when there is some basic agreement on the ends."

The times desperately demand a "natural" leader with the intelligence and the integrity to talk to the American people honestly about what we must do with regard to climate change, campaign finance reform, immigration, rebuilding our nation's infrastructure and income inequality.

A presidential candidate who wants to run as a "natural" leader would conduct an issue-oriented campaign that is devoid of personal attacks, nastiness and blatant pandering. It would be the exact opposite of the quasi-presidential campaign being conducted by our combative governor. In The Times: "She (Hillary Clinton) doesn't know what she's talking about." On CNN: "If I'm elected president I will go after marijuana smokers and the states that allow them to smoke. I'll shut them down big time. I'm sick of these addicts, sick of these liberals with no self-control."

The Christie campaign is typical Chris Christie – devoid of leadership attributes. On one hand "he's sick of addicts" and on the other hand he spearheads a "bi-partisan effort to reclaim lives" by expanding our state's drug court by offering low-level drug offenders the option of entering drug treatment after pleading guilty to charges rather than going to jail. It is impossible to know what Gov, Christie really believes. The Star Ledger got it right when they recently wrote this about our governor in an editorial: "We know by now that the man will say anything for votes."