"I'm going to law school because I want to be in politics."

"Bwaaahahahaha Heh heh..." At the bar in Vermillion, our grouping of MPA students would roar in peals of laughter whenever we heard this line utter forth from the mouths of law students. Usually first year students, at that. Like it was supposed to impress someone?

There were enough of us who had been legislative interns, or involved in politics otherwise who knew that this was stupidity at it's highest level. That, and the fact that the hot undergrad chicks would gravitate towards law students long before they'd give MPA students a backwards glance didn't temper our disdain. "MPA? Like, what's that?"

All this begs the question, what is the best preparation for a life in politics?

My political science undergraduate degree hasn't harmed me, but it hasn't been a bright and shining beacon for employers in the off season, either. Since 2002, I'm only back working using my major for the first time in, oh, about ten years. If you don't use the poly sci major to go to law school or other graduate work, you may find yourself on the street corner holding up a sign that says "Will study the science of politics for food."

When considering the best preparation, realize that there's plenty of people in the legislature who never went to college. And there's several who did, and a few of those also went to law school. There's lots and lots of businessmen and women. Heck, Sam Nachtigal listed his profession as a shepard, although during session, they looked at him funny in the long robe and large hooked staff.

It used to be that to go far in politics, you had to have a military background. Looking at the current roster of constitutional officers, my friend Rich Sattgast is the only one with any military experience to speak of. He has a couple of interesting tales from Desert Storm - they'd inspect enemy bunkers, and instead of girly pictures to lust over, the iraqis had been lusting over pictures of food.

Anyway, the roster of the legislature isn't much better. There's a few with military service, some are in the guard, but many never enlisted. So that still begs the question - what is the best preparation?

My best advice? Simply do what interests you. Whether it's art, computers, journalism, animal husbandry or whatever. Learn how to write and to speak well. It doesn't hurt, and it helps you to function in normal daily life. If you want to study law, by all means become a lawyer, and be the best attorney you can be. But don't do it for politics sake. Do it for the enjoyment of practicing law.

One friend had risen to the highet levels in GOP politics, and he dropped it all to go to law school. Later, as a State's Attorney, he enjoy's nothing more than prosecuting criminals. He'll probably continue to rise in elective office over time, but if he walked away from politics tomorrow, he'd be ok with that.

In politics, we need artists, lawyers, computer experts, businessmen, etc. Everyone can play a part based on their talents. A lot of times, us political scientists need creative people. It's the people who think outside the box who come up with the new and innovative ideas.

If all you've ever done in life is pursue politics for the sake of politics above everything else, keep in mind that there's going to come a day when you're done. As you're running or working in politics, understand that there are people who actually want to end your tenure, and are actively working towards that goal. When it's over, it's over. So only invest in politics what you can easily walk away from. Because you're going to have to someday.

So, like mothers tell their kids who want to be actors, "Have something to fall back on." Politics are not forever, so realize that and enjoy it while you can. And for that day when you're done, go home and practice animal husbandry, art, or law, and be happy with it.

(And for the record, I aced my LSAT. It was just that undergraduate GPA...)

Oh, and a shout out to a couple of the War College Readers. (Dammit! Why do they know who's writing this?); the dynamic Pierre Chamber of Commerce CEO, Maggie Sobieski, and Chad Heinrich, Deputy Secretary of State, who has been awarded a Toll Fellowship by The Council of State Governments (CSG). That's a pretty prestigious award. I won a t-shirt in the bar at SDSU one night. Like I said, that undergraduate GPA...


Douglas said…
Real life is probably the best way to prepare for political life.

But, the political science degree also provides some background for realism and historical context in real life interface with politics. The best preparation in SD still appears to be "Register Republican" however.

An unfortunately large number of bureaucrats seem never to have heard of Lord Acton? saying, "Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely."

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