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MARK SHIELDS: 2020 campaign: Shortages of wit and wisdom

MARK SHIELDS: 2020 campaign: Shortages of wit and wisdom

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This bizarre presidential election year has suffered from acute shortages of both wit and wisdom, a fact that was highlighted for me by the passing of Roberta McCain, the remarkable 108-year-old mother of the Arizona senator and 2008 Republican presidential nominee.

A few years back, when public (dis)approval of the U.S. Congress fell in national polls down to just 16% positive, Sen. John McCain kidded that such miserable numbers meant that support for Congress was down to "paid staffers and blood relatives." Barely weeks later, Congress' approval number fell further to just 10%, prompting McCain to report that he had received a stern call from his mother giving him an earful of her own untender feelings about Congress: "I can now report that we're down to paid staff."

When Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, as a presidential candidate, accurately cited his bipartisan unpopularity among his Senate colleagues as a credential for promotion, then-Vice President Joe Biden praised Cruz for serving as "an inspiration to every kid in America who worries that he'll never be able to run for president because nobody likes him."

Where else but in the heat and passion of a political campaign can you learn such pearls of wisdom as this: "There will invariably and inevitably be one person on your side in the campaign you wish devoutly was on the other side" or, "Never accept (even if it's legal) an envelope containing an alleged contribution in the form of four $100 bills." Why? Quite simply, because in the annals of American politics, no one has ever made a contribution of $400; quite simply, the person giving you the envelope has deducted either $100 or $600 from the original donor's gift.

Winning politics is always about addition, not subtraction. The winning campaign or the growing party is busy seeking out and welcoming "converts" to its ranks. In contrast, losing campaigns and shrinking political movements spend valuable time, energy and good will hunting down "heretics" -- those who have dared to deviate from party dogma or orthodoxy -- and then banishing them to a ZIP code in the Outer Darkness. Biden has been faulted by purists on the left for being too chummy, forgiving and cordial with apostates. But it would seem, at this point, that the smallest, most exclusive 2020 caucus would be, if there is such a creation, Democrats for Donald Trump.

We, sadly, do not have in this gray campaign year anyone as wise and witty as Morris K. "Mo" Udall, the gifted Arizona congressman and presidential candidate. It was Udall who explained that "the only known cure for the presidential virus is embalming fluid."

Mo also deserves credit for shining a light on the timeless insights of his fellow Arizonan U.S. Sen. Henry Fountain Ashurst, who gave us the definition on how to handle political defeat: "The welfare of the United States and the happiness of our people does not hang on the presence of Henry Fountain Ashurst in the Senate. When that realization first came to me, I was overwhelmed by the horror of it, but now it is a source of infinite comfort." That, my friends, is wisdom.

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