Share This Page

Getting back in

| Saturday, July 6, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

Thomas Jefferson and John Adams died hours apart on July 4, 1826, exactly 50 years after the first Independence Day. The last survivors of those patriots who fought for liberty, they defied the British and forged the nation that we commemorate. They were also politicians.

When they died, they had been friends again for 14 years — after enduring 12 years of mutual political enmity resulting from the ugly presidential race of 1800. President Adams, running for re-election that year, was challenged by his friend, Jefferson, and their surrogates let it rip.

Jefferson's supporters accused Adams of having a “hideous hermaphroditical character, which has neither the force and firmness of a man, nor the gentleness and sensibility of a woman.”

And Adams' supporters spread the story that a Jefferson victory would mean that “murder, robbery, rape, adultery, and incest will be openly taught and practiced, the air will be rent with the cries of the distressed, the soil will be soaked with blood, and the nation black with crimes.”

Jefferson beat Adams that year. And, despite the slander and vilification, when it was over, Jefferson had to start mending fences, deciding who would be in and who would be out. It was the smart thing to do, politically and governmentally.

That process remains the same for a president or a mayor, for the republic's earliest politicians or its latest, for Jefferson as well as Bill Peduto, likely to be Pittsburgh's next mayor. The rules of human nature are the bylaws of politics, so the calculations that go into these decisions are eternal.

When you win, those who worked against you yesterday are working every angle to get back in with you today. Most of them can be assigned to one of three groups.

The first group includes those scoundrels who should never ever be allowed back in. They are a big part of why you ran for office in the first place and they should be dead to you now that you have won. If you let them back in, your own supporters will feel betrayed and abandon you immediately. Keep them out.

The second group is trickier. Their motives for supporting your opponent were mixed — some personal, some business — but they still have much to offer the community. They might be willing to refocus their commitment to public service, a little penance if you will, after an appropriate time in political exile. If they willingly accept a reduced position with humility and offer to pull the government wagon in the direction the winner is headed, they might earn their way back in.

The third group gets back in right away. Many in this group were simply boxed. Maybe they had a job to protect or an old favor to repay. Had they betrayed your opponent when he deserved their loyalty, they will betray you next. Let them back in and they will be loyal to you.

And that is political gold.

Joseph Sabino Mistick, a lawyer, law professor and political analyst, lives in Squirrel Hill (SabinoMistick@aol.com).

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.