I Don't Need This Job

How different would 2016 politics and policy be if more politicians acted as if they were already defeated, as if life would go on without re-election, as if conscience and intellect were the best guides?

Long ago and far away, there crossed my ears the wisest words I've ever heard from any politician. They comprise a mantra, capable of bringing serenity to public officials and balance to public policy. Rare in practice, often obvious in hindsight, the words were: "I don't need this job."

In the late 1960s, as a youthful hanger-on in Virginia politics, I developed a decades-long friendship with a state senator and future federal judge, James Harry Michael Jr. In early 1978, during my fleeting time as a newspaper reporter, we spoke most days as I covered his legislative activities.

It helps to picture the man. Michael was an archetypal Virginia gentleman. Though he lost his one attempt at statewide office, people always said, "He looks like a governor." Lean and immaculately dressed, gleaming silver hair swept back from his falconine face. As often as not, his lips were clenched FDR-style around a cigarette holder.

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