Integrity is the second principle of political life as discussed here.   No financial obligation should be accepted if it undermines the politician’s position.

Once again, the wording of the principle raises difficulties.  What does it mean, to undermine a politician’s position?  In my view, the simple acceptance of a financial contribution says nothing about a politician’s integrity.   Jesse Unruh said it best  ( this is the cleaned up version)  “If you can’t take their money and vote against them, you don’t belong in politics.”

The real issue is conflict of interest.  Is there a quid pro quo ?  If a politician takes out a loan to buy a home, there is no conflict of interest.  If he or she accepts a personal loan from someone with a policy agenda, there is probably a conflict.

Meeting Bill Kortum

I attended the memorial for Bill Kortum last Saturday.   It was an appropriate, modest ceremony, in keeping with Bill’s personality.   No one mentioned the fact that he was one of the most important environmental leaders in the history of California.

Someone asked at the ceremony where we had each met Bill.   And it struck me – I didn’t remember.   I pride myself on my memory, I remember when I met Pat Brown, Jerry Brown, and Lyndon Johnson.   I remember meeting Ann Richards.   But in Bill’s case, it seemed he had always been there in a political sense, for the thirty-one years I have lived in Sonoma County.

It could have been a meeting on the Annadel access issue,   The Santa Rosa City Council was considering allowing developers to block off trails that ordinary people were using to hike into Annadel State Park.    It could been the meeting where Pat and I helped organize Concerned Citizens for Santa Rosa.   It didn’t matter.   If it was about the environment or about improving the lives of ordinary citizens, Bill Kortum was there.

Religious Experience

The following little piece from 1971 has stuck in my mind ever since.  It is a kind of sonnet, as well as a kind of introduction as to how I approached spiritual matters in those days:

Mystery.  And warm desire.
Tending to the sacred fire
Frees a young girl’s sacred urges
Religion. And the sacred stone
Thinking she finds herself alone
Saving, of course, the thaumaturges
Who, like holy men everywhere,
Have no urge to stop and stare.
Shivers, and a melting feeling
Emerging from the cloth concealing,
Her body shines with holy light.
Smiling. And all fear suppressing,
She rises to receive her blessing,
Secure in knowing it is right.


Selflessness is the first principle of political life, as described here.   The admirable idea is that a politician should always act solely in the public interest.   But what does that mean?  If a politician is ambitious, he or she will need to raise funds beyond what is necessary to attend events in the district and to run a reelection campaign.   Such activity, while neither illegal nor inappropriate, cannot be considered to be directly in the public interest.   It is not a bad thing for  a politician to be appropriately ambitious.

How should we address this problem?  The very nature of modern politics works against the concept of selflessness.  Full public funding of all political campaigns coupled with a prohibition against donating to other politicians might seem to be the answer, but the enormous cost of full public financing and the Supreme Court’s peculiar notion that money is speech make that solution essentially impossible.

Perhaps the best thing to do is to redefine the principle – “When making public policy, a politician should always act solely in the public interest.”


Variation on a Theme by Dante

My memory is a little shaky here (the variations were all written in 1965), but I believe the theme here comes from an English translation of  La Vita Nuova (The New Life), rather than from The Divine Comedy.  In any event, the lady in question is Beatrice.

Variations on a theme by Dante

So surely does my lady wend,
That ne’er a moment does she spend
Pausing on the upward path.
So fair and lovely is her face
That I must risk a harmless trace
Of praise in my little rhyme.
Her virtue is beyond dispute
And I am poor and dissolute
Risking holy angel’s wrath.
For I am bad, and she is good,
Yet would she love me if she could
Oh, God, please grant her time!
For she must go and I must stay
Gazing at the upward way.
Would that she returned my glance!
I watch her vision disappear
Until my heart is struck with fear
God grant me another chance!