The Collegian
Thursday, February 29, 2024

OPINION: Bring virtue back into politics

<p>Graphic by Annie Scalet/The Collegian</p>

Graphic by Annie Scalet/The Collegian

Politics in America suck right now.

We have an emotionally unstable president who is happy to engage with dictators and despots, is quick to demonize the press and is stricken with the emotional fortitude of a poorly socialized child. We have a Congress too petrified to stand up to him. Politicians on both sides are running to the extremes and have a lack of respect for one another. 

I feel discouraged when I think about the political climate, but I was lucky enough to receive a piece of wisdom that helps me through it.

In March, political strategist Karl Rove came to the University of Richmond to speak on immigration. He said something that stuck with me when he referenced an anecdote he included in his book "The Triumph of William McKinley." 

In 1889, when the Speaker of the House compelled Democrats to answer a roll call after months of their absence, Congressman William H. “Howdy” Martin of Texas “pull[ed] out his 16-inch long bowie knife and spen[t] the entire session sharpening it on his boot sole in an attempt to menace the Speaker of the US House of Representatives.” Rove then said, “Every time somebody says it’s really bad, just remember it’s been worse before.” 

This insight has also come to me through my late grandfather, Barry Morley. He often said, “I’ve never been wet that I didn’t get dry.”

Now that we are again in an era of broken politics, we must find a way to get "dry." Our politics are broken because we have lost respect for each other. The road out of our broken system is long and difficult, but it is one that we must embark on together. It starts with electing men and women of character whom we can respect to political office, even when we don't fully agree with them. 

I propose a litmus test: As long as a candidate does not advocate policy you find so repulsive that you could not stomach voting for them, vote for the virtuous candidate. Vote for the candidate who refuses to, as Andrew Gillum's grandmother put it, "wrestle with pigs," who refuses to contribute to American politics' metamorphosis into reality television. Someone whom you respect not just as a politician, but as a person. 

A strong moral compass is far more important than any policy position. Politicians campaign on a few hot-button issues, but they do not make a majority of their decisions based on issues they campaign on. Electing a politician should be less about electing a party and a platform and more about electing a set of virtues and values that will carry them through everything they never campaigned on. 

How do we translate the lofty goal of having virtuous politicians into a rough guide of how people should actually act? Sadly, getting to make a decision on this principle is a rare occasion. It is not only rare to have a virtuous candidate win office, but it is rare to have one run. I am not saying that all politicians are rotten to the core. Rather, I am advocating for a higher standard. So if you have the opportunity to vote for someone who represents that higher standard, vote for them. Decisions based on this principle also include rejecting those who perpetuate the negative features of our political climate. Fear-mongering, spreading lies and spitting vitriol are all disqualifying features in a candidate. 

As a voter, your responsibility is not to only take advantage of opportunities as they arise, but also create them. Find virtuous men and women and support them. Get them to run for office. Volunteer your time, donate money and give what you can spare to do your civic duty. 

There was a time when great people hungered to be in the public arena. I want the cream of the crop to vie for public service, for a chance to do something great for their country. Not for political power or personal gain — but because it is their civic duty. 

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Many view the 2018 midterm elections as a referendum on President Trump. To me, they are a referendum on the political climate in general. Writers often urge voting because it is a great way to have our voices be heard and it is a right we should exercise. These are sound reasons, but there is a more important one: You should vote because it is your duty to your country, and to stay home on Election Day is a desertion of your hallowed responsibility as a citizen of this great nation. Do your part to bring virtue back into politics this year, whatever form that takes. 

Most importantly, listen to grandparents. They know a lot.  

Contact senior opinions writer Cal Pringle at

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