In and Out of the Arena

by Jay Nordlinger

Today, we conclude our series “Ryan in the Arena”: here. You know where the phrase comes from — Theodore Roosevelt: “It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds . . .”

I can think of at least three men who titled books of theirs “In the Arena”: Richard Nixon, Caspar Weinberger, and Charlton Heston.

People are always telling politicians how to run for office: Say this, do that, don’t say this, don’t do that — do what I say, and everything will be fine. Actually, it’s not that easy. “Get in the arena!” as Paul Ryan exclaimed, during our interview. Then maybe you’ll learn something about politics. He was once a think-tanker, and thought he knew a lot about politics. He probably did. But when he actually ran for office — got in the arena, with all its messiness and difficulties — he learned a lot more.

I try to remember this, as a journalist. All of us who type and blog and tweet and “comment”: We think we know how to win elections. If only dumb politicians did what we say, they’d be home free. That stupid Mitt Romney — he could have beaten Obama with one hand tied behind his back. If only he weren’t so stupid — if only he were as smart as I — he’d be sittin’ in the Oval Office right now.

A couple of weeks ago, a colleague of mine was remarking what a bad politician Romney was. I said I had a certain humility about someone who had won the governorship of a state and a major-party presidential nomination. My colleague said, “Yeah, but he won in Massachusetts by a small margin.” Gee, a Republican in Massachusetts didn’t win by a landslide? Excuse him for living.

Running for office is a lot different from typin’ and bloggin’ and tweetin’ and commentin’. You should try it sometime. Actually get in the game. Years ago, it was rumored that Jesse Jackson wanted to run for mayor of Washington, D.C. Marion Barry observed, “Jesse don’t wanna run nothin’ but his mouth.”

Exactly. (I will now return to my regular job of telling politicians what to do.)

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