Skip to content
Link copied to clipboard

Commentary: Much-needed rules of the political road

By Tom Taft I come from a longtime political family. My great-grandfather was President William H. Taft, and his son was Mr. Republican, Sen. Robert A. Taft.

By Tom Taft

I come from a longtime political family. My great-grandfather was President William H. Taft, and his son was Mr. Republican, Sen. Robert A. Taft.

My father, Seth Taft, was the most honest, sincere, caring person I have ever known. He served as a commissioner for Cuyahoga County, which includes Cleveland. Before that, he ran for mayor of Cleveland as a Republican, and in an honorable, policy-based campaign, he lost by 1,500 votes in 1967 to Democrat Carl Stokes, the first black mayor of a major American city. A measure of my father's character was vividly demonstrated by the fact that, when Stokes died years later, his family asked my father to deliver one of the eulogies.

America did not suddenly change overnight and become an intolerant, mean-spirited, xenophobic nation. There are frustrated American voters who sought a protest outlet for their anger and, as is often the case with deep-seated anger, they looked for people to blame. Instead of dampening that anger, as Sen. John McCain (R., Ariz.) did when he ran for president in 2008, Donald Trump fed it.

I campaigned and voted for Hillary Clinton, but I believe there are important lessons to be learned here for all politicians, and they are enumerated in my father's pamphlet/book called Take on the World: Rules of the Road.

These rules were written before there was email, back when newspapers were of huge importance, but my father's rules transfer directly to today's world.

Never tell a lie. That way you do not need to remember what you said. Little lies, he wrote, soon call for bigger ones, and you will be caught.

Never do anything you will regret if you lose. In the Cleveland race for mayor, he refused - in the slightest way - to appeal to the racism that existed among the 60 percent white majority of the city. In fact, if a person associated with his campaign said anything that could even remotely be interpreted as racist, he was gone. As a result of this policy, as my father noted, Stokes supported him later in his run for county commissioner.

If it can't go on the front page, don't say it! This applies to emails today. If what you write is not suitable for public consumption, don't hit the send button. Emails can be copied and forwarded to anyone (and probably will be). The Russians do not have to cause the problem; an unintended reply-to-all can do it easily.

Speak well of others. It made no sense for Clinton to refer to Trump supporters as deplorable. They weren't deplorable! They just needed to be respected for their viewpoint (and anger) and persuaded effectively to realize that she was the one who had the answers they were looking for - positive, workable ones that spoke to our better angels and our sense of fairness.

Respect the janitor. No one will ever call you elite if they always see and believe that you respect every person in our country - even those whose lives have dealt them horrific blows and who are homeless or aimless or just angry. Behind every face of anger, despair, or addiction, there is a person to be understood and a soul to be respected.

There is no such thing as a secret. As my father noted, "The only protection against a secret getting out is not to have one." In general, Americans are forgiving to those who simply admit up front that they have made a bad error in judgment and regret it. If, when the issue of her emails first came up, Clinton had simply said, "I received bad advice, and I made a significant error in judgment, which I deeply regret, and I ask for the country's forgiveness. I have learned from it, and I hope that, in fact, it makes me better prepared to serve this nation in the future," she might be president-elect today.

There are more rules, and each is simple and well tested. When we buried my father's ashes, tears came to my eyes when my brother said, "He did it. He lived an absolutely honest, noble life, and there is not a person alive whom he did not treat fairly and who did not respect him for it."

Trump broke all of these rules, yet he was elected. But I believe he will be the exception that proves the value of my father's wisdom. If you are an aspiring politician, I urge you to follow the path of Seth Taft, not Donald Trump.

Tom Taft is a writer in Ambler.