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Joseph Sabino Mistick

Politics & Government 101

| Saturday, April 4, 2015, 9:00 p.m.

If you are looking for a tuition-free course in politics and government, you should thank Indiana Gov. Mike Pence and his pals for the lessons taught last week. They fumbled and stumbled through the debacle they caused with their so-called “Religious Freedom Restoration Act.” Here are just a few lecture topics:

Stop digging . This is what you must do when you find that you are digging yourself into a hole. When Starbucks announced a campaign to have baristas engage customers in discussions about racism, it was met with ridicule and worse. The company quickly abandoned its plan and retreated — no tweaks, no redrafting.

You cannot fool all of the people all of the time . Sure, giving a bad thing a sweet name often dupes people into believing it is a good thing. But every now and then, at the confluence of social media, human rights and politics, the whole thing blows up and is seen for what it really is.

Never jump onto a sinking ship . The 2016 Republican presidential hopefuls who were too quick to endorse Pence & Co. must now play defense. They found the notion of the law appealing, without reflecting on the law itself. Sometimes good staff work can save you from this. But that requires good judgment and patience, too.

Your enemies can hurt you, but your friends can kill you . Political enemies are predictable, never acting in your best interest. Your friends are far more dangerous, cajoling and convincing you to do their bidding, ladling you with the broth of friendship, seducing you to undertake politically mortal endeavors. A loving skepticism is in order whenever friends strongly advocate a particular path.

Stay near the middle . That's where most of the people are, so the middle is pretty big, with plenty of room to the left and right. Leadership sometimes requires a radical swing but you must sell it hard. Pence failed to do that, holding a private signing ceremony, attended by some well-meaning folks, along with a couple of proud bigots, blurring his intended message.

Be aware of unintended consequences . Protecting the religious beliefs of citizens is a lofty goal. But Amazon has a number of books on how to start your own religion, which might be based on any depravity or twisted view of society imaginable. Without care, the bad will be protected along with the good.

Be prepared . It is hard to remember a worse public performance than the one Pence provided last Sunday with ABC's George Stephanopoulos. Totally incapable of answering the simplest, most direct questions about the law he signed, Pence instantly became the poster boy for clueless politicians. It will follow him throughout his career.

Be kind . Kind is good politics. Kind is wise public policy.

Politics and religion do not mix . As Mark Twain said, “I am quite sure now that often, very often, in matters concerning religion and politics, a man's reasoning powers are not above the monkey's.”

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

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