For Americans today – particularly for bloggers, Senators, reporters and activists — it’s pretty much always a definitive rebuke to accuse someone of “acting politically.” Reflexive disdain for political motives is deeply rooted in our popular culture, which so often assumes that ethics is one thing, politics quite another. “You quit a profession you love for ethical reasons,” the President tells the main character on CBS’s Madam Secretary. “That makes you the least political person I know.”
But however culturally pervasive and recognizable this kind of disparagement may be – however tempting it is to call out someone for their political motives — there are reasons to do so sparingly.
To see why, it’s worth reflecting on two of the most striking recent instances in which base political motives have been alleged. Both the right and left agreed that Barack Obama’s decision to postpone executive action to reduce deportation of undocumented immigrants was unprincipled and political.