POLITICS & GOVERNMENT

Former U.S. Sen. Robert Torricelli Says Politicians Should Use Their Power

One of New Jersey’s prominent politicians says if he was able to do life over again, he would make changes. Former U.S. Sen. Robert Torricelli told NJ Today Managing Editor Mike Schneider that while public service is important work, it should be done in moderation. He said he spent 20 years in politics and has now moved on to other interests.

“I will always be committed to public policy and the Democratic Party. I still care about issues,” Torricelli said. “But this time belongs to other people.”

Torricelli said he believed 20 years was enough time in politics for him. “It was a fulfilling life, but it was a hard life,” he said.

He relayed a story that he remembered driving around the state on Saturday and Sunday afternoons to eight or 10 events and feeling envious of people mowing their lawns. “Since I started in politics in college, I felt like I never had time. And it’s such a precious thing,” Torricelli said.

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He admitted it was a choice to enter politics, but added it was also a choice to get out.

Torricelli said if given the chance, he would do things differently. “Politics is exciting, there are few ways in life to do more to help people if you really care about people, which I did, and their problems. Few things are more fulfilling or worthwhile. But anything in life has to be done in moderation. If I had life to do again, I’d still go in public life, for probably about the same amount of time. But it shouldn’t eclipse family or friends,” he said. “It should never take away from the time you grow intellectually. It should never take away from time alone. Everything in life should be done in some moderation. If I had to fault myself, I think I failed the test of moderation. I went in with both feet for a long time.”

In Torricelli’s view, politicians aren’t willing to use their power. He said senators have the opportunity to stop measures in the Senate on an individual basis, as opposed to the House of Representatives. “A senator who doesn’t find a reason every month to go to the floor and say, ‘If you don’t do something for this school, if you don’t help this neighborhood, if you don’t help this program, if you don’t do this thing, I’m stopping this bill.’ You may not be popular if you do that, life may be difficult, you may become irritating, but if you’re not willing to do that and stand up for somebody and something, why are you there?” he asked.

While contention isn’t hard to find in politics, Torricelli said he believes there is a shortage of people who are willing to take a stand on principle. “I think a lot of public office today is people who want to get in office and at all costs want to stay there, whether they achieve anything or not,” he said. “I don’t fault those who are in contentious positions. I don’t agree with Lindsey Graham [who is threatening to hold up President Barack Obama’s nominees] obviously but I would rather see a government where people are fighting for things they believe in than simply getting by.”

Torricelli believes politicians are more polarized today than when he was in office. He said during his tenure he saw the change and that the political realm became “less collegial, less of a sense of decorum, less of a common commitment to the country” and less effective.

The reason, he said, is that the whole culture changed. “Politics, if it’s done right, is a reflection of our culture for the best and the worst. That’s where America is unfortunately,” he said. “I don’t know how it changes. But it is not a gentle time in American culture.”


Related: Torricelli Discusses Menendez Scandal, Christie and Problems in Education