WOOTEN COLUMN: Politicians' credit-claiming clamor rises to an unseemly roar
"There is no limit to what a man can do or where he can go if he does not mind who gets the credit."
That variation on a maxim from Ralph Waldo Emerson graced a plaque on President Ronald Reagan's Oval Office desk.
But even "The Great Communicator" had to communicate some self-promotion while seeking votes.
Still, Reagan blended humility, frequently through self-deprecating humor, into obligatory declarations that he was the best person for the elective jobs of Screen Actors Guild president, California governor and U.S. president.
And while a growing number of Americans decry "negative campaigning" that assails candidates' records, qualifications and at times even characters, politicians' relentless -- and often baseless -- claims of sterling accomplishments and admirable leadership qualities are also an unseemly spectacle.
Once upon a much less crass time, candidates didn't boast as blatantly as they do now. Dwight D. Eisenhower, wonderfully lauded on this page by George Will, would never have told voters, "I won the war."
But last weekend Mitt Romney, still the Republican presidential front-runner (isn't he?), told the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington: "I fought against long odds in a deep blue state [Massachusetts], but I was a severely conservative Republican governor."
Rick Santorum said during last month's GOP debate at the North Charleston Coliseum: "I'm the only one in this race that's ever defeated a Democratic incumbent. I did it for the Congress and I did it for the Senate."
And the stunningly self-impressed Newt Gingrich proclaimed last fall in Iowa: "I have more substance than any other candidate in modern history."
Fortunately, Gingrich's shot at the nomination, despite last month's S.C. primary victory, is now history.
President Barack Obama also overrates his own place "in modern history." Two months ago during a "60 Minutes" interview, he said: "I would put our legislative and foreign policy accomplishments in our first two years against any president -- with the possible exceptions of Johnson, FDR, and Lincoln -- just in terms of what we've gotten done in modern history."
Though CBS didn't air that over-the-top self-appraisal on TV, it did post it as part of a longer segment online.
And though national politicians are big-time braggarts, our local and state elected officials also invariably demand full credit where it is due -- and occasionally where it isn't.
For instance, Charleston Mayor Joe Riley rates high praise for his central role in persuading the State Infrastructure Bank to grant $88 million for the $154 million project to finally solve the flooding problem on the Septima P. Clark Parkway, aka the Crosstown.
Yet since the SIB announced that grand news 10 days ago, the mayor has graciously shared the glory with numerous state lawmakers. He has also hailed folks from the State Ports Authority, College of Charleston, Medical University of South Carolina and local neighborhood groups for helping secure the funding.
However, as esteemed Post and Courier colleague Robert Behre reported Saturday, Sen. Robert Ford last week sent an email that made it sound as if he felt slighted: "We have heard the good news about ... finally getting the funds necessary to fix the crosstown. What we haven't heard was how ... the work of the black elected and Civic leaders over the years on this issue played a key role in seeing this project finally come to fruition."
And don't forget Rep. Chip Limehouse. As a member of the Infrastructure Bank board, he made the motion for that money -- and a recent call to our reporter to remind him of that.
OK. Thanks. Way to go. All of you.
But let's not dwell on The Post and Courier's revealing news stories and incisive editorials that helped convince the SIB to do the right Crosstown thing.
Let's not focus, either, on the fact that after getting our endorsement last month, Romney won Charleston County despite losing the state by 12 percentage points.
After all, we don't "mind who gets the credit."