Getting back in
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).
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